the law of self defense.

A short piece I wrote for class about legislatures that have enacted public “stand your ground” laws and how these laws have enabled a greater number of successful, yet questionable, self-defense claims by individuals who have used deadly force in confrontations.

February 24, 2015

My God Given Right to Shoot… the Man Texting in the Movie Theater?

By Maria López Delgado

As a civilized society, we make informed decisions every day about the type of values we want to promote, as well as those we are willing to risk, for the sake of the greater good, or because some warranted justification exists. The law of self-defense is a perfect example of this type of reasoned decision-making. We are willing to say that one person is justified in taking another person’s life if he or she is under attack and reasonably fears imminent serious bodily harm or death. The law goes as far as excusing those who kill in self-defense of others. We are willing to make a value judgment placing the life of the person being attacked over the life of the aggressor.

However, the law of self-defense is not a free-for-all. There are strict limitations on when an individual is entitled to the privilege of using deadly force. Right? If you are a citizen of Florida, and other states with like-minded legislatures, you may be questioning just how strict such limitations really are. After Florida’s enactment of statute 776.012, the risk of unwarranted shootings has skyrocketed. This law essentially states that if you are under attack, in a place you are legally entitled to be, and not engaged in any illegal or criminal activity, you can stand your ground and shoot to kill, in order to defend your life.

So why wouldn’t Curtis Reeves think he had a right to shoot 43-year-old Chad Oulson over an argument about texting at a Florida movie theater? That’s self-defense! Right? Wrong. You see Curtis, the shooting still has to be reasonable. You must fear for your life. But we understand how this new type of “stand your ground” legislation motivates a feeling of self-entitlement to open fire on the average, annoying moviegoer. Reeves had a right to be in that movie theater, and he was not engaged in any criminal activity; however, he is the only one who has testified that Oulson turned around and punched him in the face before he fired that one, fatal shot. A jury will decide just how reasonable this particular shooting was at Reeve’s trial – scheduled for March of 2015.

What makes this relatively new piece of legislation even more questionable and alarming is the fact that the Reeves case is not an isolated incident; it is not an outlier in an otherwise flawless system of properly interpreting and applying “stand your ground” law. In fact, the Tampa Bay Times, “in the most comprehensive effort of its kind,” identified hundreds of cases in which a “stand your ground” theory of self-defense made an appearance. Of these cases, the defense was successful 70% of the time and was far more likely to be successful when the victim was black. The article raises reasons for concern, and highlights the fact that this expanded version of the law of self-defense is being used in ways we would have never reasonably thought justifiable.

“Stand your ground” laws are producing armed persons readily willing to pull the trigger at the very thought of a potential threat because they understand that a wider range of behavior is now considered self-defense. The law is inciting unequal treatment based on race, an increasing number of homicides, and a larger number of cases for prosecutors to deal with. Long story short – “stand your ground” legislation is an all-around terrible idea, incentivizing the wrong kind of values in an American society that is already far too trigger-happy. Perhaps the “real world” effects of this law are far from what legislators intended, but there is enough concern to warrant serious revision of legislation that is increasing public risk and chaos.


capital punishment.

i am against the penalty; that is a fact my mind is made up about, i don’t see my opinion ever changing and i don’t understand or dignify the so-called justifications for this barbaric practice.

in addition to the fact that it’s flawed, inherently racist, and just plain uncivilized, it is also my personal conviction to be strictly pro-life. this means i am consistently against both abortion and capital punishment. i personally cannot defend any one person’s life more than another’s. innocent or guilty, inmate or life at conception; either way, you’re still a human being. yes, my beliefs are rooted in a deep respect and acknowledgement of the sanctity of life.

all of this being said, i respect others’ opinions on the topics, while firmly disagreeing with what those opinions are. this is where i insert my kind reminder about my how my opinions are deserving of respect because we are all entitled to our own. i write and discuss all of this with the realistic notion that not everyone thinks the way i do. and that’s fine. 

despite an escalating number of wrongful convictions, botched executions and after-the-fact-discoveries of innocence, we continue partaking in this ritual that is by its very nature the vilest form of cruel and unusual punishment, which our constitution is supposed to protect us against. it’s a shame the supreme court has decided that executing a person does not violate their eighth amendment right.

does this stand for the proposition that the one thousand two hundred fourteen lethal injections and one hundred fifty eight electrocutions that have been administered since 1976 were pleasant? i don’t know what the court intended or meant but i’m still waiting for them to change their mind.

how would you like it if your last moments were accompanied by restraints, paralyzation and purposely-induced cardiac arrest? 

non-exhaustive list of botched executions acknowledges, with painful details, forty-four well known cases of “executions gone wrong” (what a redundancy) since 1982.

thirty-two states still have the death penalty. and among the eighteen that have abolished it, some don’t apply it retroactively, so there are still people in those states on death row, waiting to be executed. coming to terms with the fact that despite the state’s change of heart, they will still suffer the consequences of prior legislation. 

there have been one thousand three hundred eighty-nine executions since 1976.

there have been thirty-one white defendants executed for crimes against a black victim, while there have been two hundred eighty-nine black defendants executed for crimes against a white victim. 

in college i came across radley balko, who writes about the role of DNA in exonerations (in general, not only those accounting for release from death row). according to him, (and this is somewhat outdated now, i would think), DNA exonerations account for 268 of the 328 exonerations that have been made since 1989. his stuff is interesting if you ever feel compelled.

since 1973, there have been over one hundred forty people who have been released from death row because of evidence demonstrating their innocence. people who were waiting to be executed, for crimes they did not commit. “there is no way to tell how many of the over 1,000 people executed since 1976 may also have been innocent. courts do not generally entertain claims of innocence when the defendant is dead.” but there is good reason to think there are many. and some inconclusive figures have been established, but there could be more unaccounted for. 

as of april 1st, 2014, there are three thousand fifty four persons on death row. how many of those people do you figure are innocent, and struggling with the stark fact that they will be executed unless their miraculous exoneration comes first? and by the way even if you’re not innocent, i don’t think the government should execute you. 

this practice is sheer hypocrisy.

we want to deter murders but we haven’t realized that this is not the way to do it. claims of deterrence are incredibly unfounded and unsupported by facts. there are higher murder rates in states with the death penalty than in those without it. this has been the case for many years. and still no change.

for 2012, the average murder rate of death penalty states was 4.7, while the average murder rate of states without the death penalty was 3.7.

yet somehow, thirty-two states still find “reasons” compelling them to continue this madness.

note – all statistics and quotes taken from