A law professor and commissioner on the United States Commission on Civil Rights has filed a statement in support of the “Stand Your Ground” laws that were the subject of a recent Commission on Civil Rights report.
Stand Your Ground Laws
Under the common law castle doctrine, the use of deadly force is justified in the case of a person defending their home. Stand Your Ground laws are extensions of this castle doctrine, allowing the use of deadly force beyond the confines of one’s home, into any area where a person “has a right to be” in defense of their person or property.
The United States Commission on Civil Rights Report
In April 2020, the United States Commission on Civil Rights published a report entitled “Examining the Race Effects of Stand Your Ground Laws and Related Issues.” The report was based upon a briefing that was held before the commission in Orlando, Florida in 2014.
The purpose of the briefing and report was to “determine whether there is a possible racial bias in the assertion, investigation, or enforcement of justifiable homicide laws in states with Stand Your Ground provisions.” The briefing consisted of expert testimony from state legislators, academic researchers, and advocates.
The published report consisted of statements by Commissioner Michael Yaki, Commissioner Gail Heriot, and Commissioner Peter N. Kirsanow and a transcript of the Stand Your Ground Public Briefing Transcript that was held on October 17, 2014.
Commissioner Gail Heriot, who is also a law professor at University of San Diego, wrote a dissenting statement to accompany the report. In her dissent, Heriot wrote that the commission report had ignored its own research that indicated that “Stand Your Ground” laws do not disproportionately harm African Americans. She wrote, “This report should not have been published in this form.”
Heriot continued, “When the results of an empirical study don’t come out the way Commission members hoped and expected that they would, the right thing to do is usually to publish those results anyway. Why hide useful information? Instead, the Commission sat on the report for years. Then it decided to discard the draft written by our staff and publish instead a transcript of the witness testimony received at our briefing that took place on October 17, 2014 in Orlando, Florida.”
She continued, “The Commission is publishing this transcript more than seven years after Trayvon Martin passed away—without any reference to its independent research on the subject. The controversy over his death and over ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws has largely faded out of the headlines. Some members of this Commission might be inclined to bemoan this report not being as relevant as it might have been had it been ready closer to 2012. I disagree. Cooler heads should have prevailed early on during the debate over Stand Your Ground laws. But they did not. Now that years have passed, the Commission could have made a modest contribution to that debate by publishing the results of its research. It chose to bury those results instead only because they did not go in the direction the Commission’s majority was hoping for.”