What Does it Mean to “Stand Your Ground?”

What Does it Mean to "Stand Your Ground?"Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law has endured intense scrutiny due to the recent criminal case of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator in the gated community of “The Retreat at Twin Lakes” in Sanford, Florida. On February 26, 2012 while on neighborhood watch, Zimmerman admittedly shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American high school student. Citing Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law and Zimmerman’s right to self-defense, the police questioned but did not charge or arrest Zimmerman. However, due to widespread protests and demands for Zimmerman’s arrest and prosecution, he was eventually charged with 2nd Degree Murder by a special prosecutor appointed by Florida’s governor. Zimmerman was tried by jury and acquitted of 2nd Degree Murder and Manslaughter on July 13, 2013. Ironically, though Zimmerman is now notoriously linked to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, his lawyers did not raise the “Stand Your Ground” defense at trial, relying instead on simple self-defense.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law is a logical (some would say “illogical”) extension of a longstanding American legal doctrine called the “Castle Doctrine” or “Defense of Habitation Doctrine.” Stemming from the concept of self-defense, this legal principle allows a person special types of protection and immunity in his/her home. Within his/her home, a person is allowed to use force, up to and including deadly force, with no duty to evade or retreat, in order to defend against an intruder under certain circumstances. Those “circumstances” often exist when that person is in “reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury.” That concept/principle is variably refined, tailored and integrated into the law of most states and often extends to immunity from civil suit as well as immunity from criminal prosecution.

Some states go beyond the confines of a person’s home and extend “Castle Doctrine” principles to a person’s vehicle or workplace. Still other states, including Florida, effectively extend “Castle Doctrine” principles to any place that is being legally occupied by that person. Consequently, the key difference between the classic “Castle Doctrine” concepts found in the laws of most states and the “Stand Your Ground” law of Florida is location. There’s the rub: the concept of self-defense against violent intruders in one’s home is expanded to theoretically any place in that state, probably resulting in violent conflicts between individuals who are all legally occupying the same space. Some deem that extension perfectly logical while others deem it illogical and unduly dangerous (citing the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman incident, for example). As of 10/11/13, some variation of “Stand Your Ground” law is reportedly found in 22 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and West Virginia. Clearly, it behooves every individual in the United States to learn his/her state’s self-defense/”Castle Doctrine”/”Defense of Habitation”/”Stand Your Ground” laws.

Kathy Catanzarite

[Note from This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither, or any of its affiliates, shall have any liability stemming from this article.]