A Texas man, on trial now for killing his neighbor, is invoking the Stand Your Ground defense after calling a 911 dispatcher while starting an argument with a neighbor over a noise complaint. The neighbor, a public school teacher was shot and killed by the defendant, Paul Rodriguez, while he was unarmed. Prosecutors allege that the defendant learned the buzz words to say to assert the defense during a self -defense class. Texas has a Stand Your Ground law similar to the Florida law being invoked by George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
It’s ironic that Texas and Florida while known for being aggressive states against crime, now seem to be lessening their grip on violent gun crimes and murders, to protect gun owners. Guns and 2nd amendment rights are becoming at odds with combating violent gun crime. Some defendants appear to be concocting the defense to fit their purpose—to avoid being held accountable for their crimes.
The Texas trial of Paul Rodriguez and Florida case of George Zimmerman appear to be improperly using the defense. The law should not be meant to protect the aggressor—the initiator of the fight. Self-defense should mean protecting one’s self in imminent fear of death or great bodily harm. It should never mean self- manufacturing the defense and initiating and escalating the fight.
While the defendant may state all the correct buzz words to invoke the defense of Stand Your Ground, the trier of fact must also look at the motives behind the words and circumstances. Looking at the circumstances will reveal the true motive of the persons invoking the Florida and Texas Stand Your Ground laws. The more times that this defense is used improperly and upheld by the courts will result in more killings and murderers going unpunished. Florida, Texas and the over twenty other states with Stand Your Ground laws should stand their ground and re-write the wrong these laws are creating in society. The Constitutional’s second amendment rights did not intend to allow aggressors to kill innocent non-aggressor victims. Letting aggressors of crime avoid conviction with the defense is not Standing Your Ground but called getting away with murder.
More importantly is the fact that Stand Your Ground defenses are arbitrarily upheld when it comes to race. The US Commission on Civil Rights announced last week that is intends to investigate the disparity involved in the defense when race as a factor is applied. In cases where the victim is black and the shooter is white, the defense is upheld over 33% of the time. And the killing is found to be justified. When the victim is white and the shooter is black, the Stand Your Ground defense is only successful less than 4% of the time. John Roman, a fellow at the Urban Institute found according to data by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 34% of cases involving a white shooter killing a black person were deemed as a justifiable homicide. Meanwhile, in similar situations, when the shooter was black and the victim was white, the homicide was ruled justifiable only 3.3% of the time.
It’s time that these Stand Your Ground laws are investigated before more innocent persons die without recourse for their violent deaths. It’s time for citizens to ask their legislators to review these Stand Your Ground laws.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others. She also writes for the Huffington Post.