Trayvon Martin case raises questions about 'stand your ground' laws

The Trayvon Martin case has brought national attention to "stand your ground laws now in place in dozens of states, including Pennsylvania, which say a person can use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight.

Police in Sanford, Fla. used the law to justify not charging George Zimmerman who said he acted in self defense when he shot 17-year-old Martin during a neighborhood watch patrol.

Many people, including the Florida law's author and Republican presidential candidates, say the law doesn't apply in Zimmerman's case because he clearly pursued the unarmed Martin.

But the leading gun control group in Pennsylvania points to the case as proof that "stand your ground" laws - also known as expanded Castle Doctrine laws -have potentially deadly outcomes.

"Bad laws have consequences," said CeaseFirePA president Dan Muroff. "Pennsylvania's legislature needs to recognize that blind allegiance to the NRA brings with it real potential for tragic results. We now see how last year's expansion of the Castle Doctrine can lead exactly where concerned citizens feared it might."

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and many police chiefs across Pennsylvania opposed the legislation which passed both chambers and was signed by Gov. Corbett last year. They said it could lead to situations where criminals use the defense as is the case in a number of states.

Dauphin County district attorney Ed Marsico, who is president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said yesterday that the Pennsylvania law contained some amendments pushed by his group that could prevent a similar defense by a shooter like Zimmerman. 

"The amendments to the bill here made ours a lot more restrictive than Florida’s; thankfully," he said. 

Among the changes that were made to the Pennsylvania bil include that the individual firing the weapon must be carrying a legal weapon and be engaged in a lawful activity. In addition, a defendant may not use the Castle Doctrine defense in the shooting of a law enforcement officer.

Authorities in Florida say there have been dozens of cases where individuals have used the "stand your ground law" after being charged with a crime. The stand your ground provision expands the traditional Castle Doctrine defense of one's home to include "anywhere one is legally allowed to be."

Marsico said he only knew of one Pennsylvania case, in Montgomery County, where someone has used the new Castle Doctrine law as a defense in a deadly incident outside of a home.

In the December case, Angel Gonzalez fatally shot 17-year-old Zachary Levin, one of two men who chased him with baseball bats after an altercation. Levin's father, Joshua, was wounded in the arm.

District attorney Risa Ferman said yesterday that she declined to file homicide charges against the shooter because he acted reasonably to protect himself, according to the Morning Call of Allentown.

"Gonzalez was justified in using non-deadly and deadly force in this situation," Ferman said. "The actions he took before making the decision to shoot Zachary and Joshua Levin are evidence he made a concentrated effort to avoid using deadly force."






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