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Louisiana Stand Your Ground and Self Defense Laws

I recently represented a man charged with manslaughter in St. Landry Parish for killing the ex-husband of his new wife.  The ex-husband entered the couple’s home on the day of their wedding, and began attacking my client.  My client is smaller in height and weight than the ex- husband and had reasonable fear of bodily injury. During the attack, my client shot and killed the ex-husband.  To me, and also clearly to the jury that found him not guilty, this was obviously self defense.  The intruder was unarmed, but my client’s right to defend himself with “deadly force” is protected under Louisiana’s Justifiable Homicide law.  This type of law is commonly known as “stand your ground.”

Stand Your Ground Laws

Stand your ground laws have gotten a lot of press with the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida. The shooter, Georgia Zimmerman, has been charged with second degree murder for killing Martin.  Zimmerman pled not guilty and claims the shooting was in self defense.  Zimmerman had the option to seek immunity under Florida’s stand your ground law, but decided in April to pursue a claim of self defense instead.  There is a legal difference between stand your ground and self defense, and the exact definitions depend on the specific state.

There are currently 24 states that have passed stand your ground laws.  Louisiana is one of the 24 states (Mississippi, Texas and Georgia are also among these states.)  Louisiana criminal code RS 14:20 for Justifiable Homicide reads:

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” A person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is in a place where he or she has a right to be shall have no duty to retreat before using deadly force as provided for in this Section, and may stand his or her ground and meet force with force.

No finder of fact shall be permitted to consider the possibility of retreat as a factor in determining whether or not the person who used deadly force had a reasonable belief that deadly force was reasonable and apparently necessary to prevent a violent or forcible felony involving life or great bodily harm or to prevent the unlawful entry.”

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Louisiana Self Defense Laws

What this part of the Justifiable Homicide law essentially means is that if you are not doing anything illegal and are acting in self defense, you are not required to retreat before using deadly force. However, you and your Louisiana criminal defense attorney will also need to prove that you were in fact acting in self defense. The specific Louisiana law for self defense includes the following:

[box style=”quote”]“When committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and that the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger.”[/box]

The key word here is “reasonably.” If my client had chased the ex-husband into the street and shot him while he was fleeing the scene, the killing would not be considered “reasonable.” In this hypothetical example, the ex-husband was retreating and therefore no longer considered a mortal threat.

The trial of George Zimmerman is currently underway and it will be interesting to see if self defense can be proven.  While my client was clearly acting in self defense and was found not guilty by a jury, the facts surrounding the Zimmerman are extremely different.  The decision by Zimmerman and his criminal defense attorneys to waive the pre trial hearing for immunity under Florida’s stand your ground law was surprising to many. The attorneys did say they would consider invoking the stand your ground law later in the trial process, so we may not have heard the end of the stand your ground controversy.