The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

What is the 'Stand Your Ground' Law in California?

After the tragic events that lead to the death of Trayvon Martin last month in Sanford, Fla., the Internet is abuzz with questions on Stand Your Ground laws and Castle Laws.

Indeed, it was the Stand Your Ground Law in Florida that appears to have allowed the alleged killer, George Zimmerman, to walk free after shooting the seventeen-year old. You see, it seems Zimmerman thought that a black man with a hoodie was reasonable cause for suspicion. So, he called 911 and reported the guy.

As far as reports now indicate, he then followed and confronted Martin, eventually shooting him.

Zimmerman claimed that he acted in self-defense. After all, he was in fear of his life. But Trayvon Martin was armed with nothing more than a bag of Skittles and a bottle of ice tea.

Stanford police have not yet arrested Zimmerman, saying that under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, he was within his rights to confront a stranger on the streets and use deadly force, if he believed himself or others to be in imminent danger.

In Florida's version of the law, you can shoot anyone, anywhere, if you fear for your life. Well, anywhere you have the legal right to be.

Now, what if this scenario played out in Los Angeles? Would a Los Angeles criminal lawyer be able to assert a California Stand Your Ground law to protect a Zimmerman-wannabe?

California has a slightly different take on this law. Under California Penal Code sec. 198.5 , if someone enters your home, you can presume that your life is in imminent danger and you can use deadly force against the intruder. In your own home, you would have no duty to retreat in California. Also in this state, you have no duty to retreat if you're stopping someone from committing a felony.

But as for attacking a Skittles-wielding 17-year-old on the street, a Los Angeles defendant would not have much success in invoking the Stand Your Ground laws in California, as California adopts the more tailored version of that law, known as the Castle doctrine. As described above, those claiming self defense have more leeway in their homes (your home is your castle) than in a public area.

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