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N.C. self-defense law similar to Florida's
Castle Doctrine mimicks 'Stand Your Ground'
Published Sunday, July 21, 2013 6:42 pm
by Amanda Raymond

North Carolina has its own “Stand Your Ground” law: the Castle Doctrine.

The Castle Doctrine was signed into law by then-Gov. Bev Perdue in 2011. It originally applied to homes and was extended to include the workplace and motor vehicles.

It states that a lawful occupant in his or her home, workplace or motor vehicle does not have to retreat from an intruder if the occupant reasonably believes their life is threatened or in danger of serious bodily harm.

“Generally speaking, before you can resort to deadly force, you have to retreat, if you can retreat safely,” said Charlotte School of Law visiting associate professor Stan Adelman said. “And the Castle Doctrine is an exception to that.”

An occupant can use anything up to and including deadly force and is immune from civil or criminal liability if they believe someone is unlawfully entering or already entered the home, workplace or vehicle, or a person is attempting to kidnap someone.

Adelman said, in his opinion, a self-defense case like the George Zimmerman case that took place in Florida can happen anywhere. Zimmerman, 29, was acquitted in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, 17, in Sanford, Fla. The case has sparked national debate over self-defense law and racial profiling. Zimmerman is Hispanic; Martin, who was unarmed, was black.

“In my take of it, this was a self-defense case,” Adelman said. “And the prosecution has to disprove self-defense. The jury didn’t find that the prosecution had disproved self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. So, I think that could come up anywhere.”

And when criminal cases are too close to call, Adelman said the defendant has the advantage.

“In any case, and we’re not just talking about self-defense here, in any criminal case if the evidence is close, the defendant is supposed to win,” he said. “That’s how the system’s designed.”

Some of the instances where the Castle Doctrine would not apply are if the accused trespasser has a right to be there, the invader is a law enforcement officer or bail bondsman, or the intruder has stopped any efforts to enter the area.

The law also cannot help those who provoke the attack against themselves.

According to a Washington Post article, Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, which was passed in 2005, applies to any area, not just a home, workplace or vehicle. A Florida citizen does not have the responsibility to retreat if they reasonably believe they are in danger of great bodily harm or death.

“If someone is attacking you, you can attack in kind without having to retreat,” Adelman said. “When I say in kind, if non-deadly force is used, you can use non-deadly force in return. And if deadly force is used, you can use deadly force in return.”

In five years since the law was approved, the rate of justifiable homicides in Florida tripled, according to the Washington Post, although  supporters say there was a decrease in violent crime.

When it comes to self- defense cases like Zimmerman’s, Adelman said it takes a good judge to let the jury know of their great responsibility.

“Anytime the prosecution has to prove anything it’s a very heavy burden. In any criminal case they have to prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “You have to find that the prosecution has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt, not just more likely than not, not just a little more than 50 percent, not just 51 to 49, but the reasonable doubt standard is not 100 to zero. The scales really have to be tipped pretty much just in one way.”


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