Malcolm Comments on "Shoot First" Law

Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm commented in a BBC News Magazine article examining Florida's self-defense law, nicknamed the "shoot first" statute, in light of the Trayvon Martin shooting.

At least 33 states have laws that extend the right to use deadly force in self-defense as in the "castle law," a principle of British common law that establishes an individual's right to defend the home from invasion or attack.

"If you have the right to be there, you should not have to retreat before using deadly force," said Malcolm. "The idea is someone is about to assail you. You do not have to turn and flee. You can meet force with force."

Prior to the enactment of the Florida law in 2005, deadly force was only allowed if the perpetrator could illustrate that he or she had attempted to avoid confrontation. Under the current law, the burden has shifted. In addition, while laws in Florida and other states require only that the shooter "reasonably believe" he or she is in mortal danger, Florida's law can make a person who succeeds in claiming self-defense immune from arrest or prosecution.

Trayvon Martin: 'Shoot First' law under scrutiny, BBC News Magazine, March 20, 2012. By Daniel Nasaw.

"Supporters say that in addition to safeguarding the legal rights of innocent people forced to defend themselves in deadly situations, the law also deters crime.

"'At some point the people catch on,' says Mitch Vilos, a Utah lawyer who has written books on the nation's gun laws. 'You don't mess with somebody who has a gun.'

"But critics say the laws make it much harder for authorities to prosecute violent crimes, because they establish a presumption of self-defence that is very difficult for authorities to rebut.

"'When something does happen, it creates a situation where there is no criminal or civil redress for a person who is injured or who loses a loved one,' says Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney of the Legal Community Against Violence, a San Francisco group."

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