Kevin Smith: Laws based on ‘irrational fear’

July 30, 2013 

Blame the law

The reactions to the verdict in the Trayvon Martin shooting are predictably partisan, reflecting absolute outrage or complete support. What is missing is recognition that the course of this trial demonstrates quite clearly that “stand your ground” laws are unworkable legal rules as well as bad policy.

The common law requirements for self-defense included two elements: the use of proportional force and a duty to retreat from the conflict if possible. By removing both of those requirements, “stand your ground” laws remove all of the issues on which evidence could be produced in court.

Under the common law standard, which served us well for centuries, it was possible to examine evidence to determine whether the force was proportional and if there was no possibility of retreat. With “stand your ground,” the only evidence is the subjective assertion by the survivor that he was afraid, an assertion that the dead victim can never dispute.

It is a grave mistake to base our legal system on the irrational fear that seems to grip America today. It produces ill-conceived laws that cannot distinguish in court between an armed coward and an innocent kid.

Kevin Smith

Raleigh

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