What would have happened if Trayvon Martin had been shot in Chicago? Are there Illinois "stand your ground" laws, just like there are in Florida?
For the uninitiated, let's debrief. Trayvon Martin, a seventeen-year-old boy, was shot in Florida by self-proclaimed neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman. Martin was on his way home from the convenience store and was unarmed. Zimmerman claimed that Martin looked suspicious and had followed Martin, eventually confronting him. The story is unclear from that point on as evidence is still emerging, but what is clear is that Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest, killing him.
Zimmerman told the police that he shot Martin out of self defense. The Sanford Police did not arrest Zimmerman. Now, the nation is up in arms about what many feel is a grave miscarriage of justice. But under Florida's Stand Your Ground Law, the Sanford Police say that Zimmerman may have acted within his rights.
Stand Your Ground Laws and The Castle Doctrine
The stand your ground law is part of the defense of justification. Basically, if you are charged with murder, you can "justify" the murder if you can show that you acted in self defense. Under the Castle Doctrine, you are usually justified if someone invades your "castle," or in other words, your residence. Stand your ground laws are broader, however, in some cases conferring the right to use deadly force anywhere you have the legal right to be and when faced with force or an imminent crime.
In Illinois, a person is justified in the use of force if he reasonable believes that he must do so to defend himself or another against death or great bodily harm. But Illinois statutes do not confer this defense broadly. Illinois adopts a law similar to the Castle Doctrine.
Illinois does not allow the justification defense to someone who initially provokes the use of deadly force against himself, unless the other party exerts a force on him that is "so great that he reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm."
So, in looking at the case of Trayvon Martin -- the evidence currently available does not indicate that Martin used any great force against Zimmerman. Perhaps there was a scuffle and perhaps Martin even attacked Zimmerman, as Zimmerman claims. But bear in mind that the reports indicate that Martin was much smaller than Zimmerman, so it's hard to say if Martin could have exerted deadly force on Zimmerman.
In Chicago, it's doubtful that Zimmerman would have evaded the law as easily, under the Illinois adoption of the Castle Doctrine. As this case goes before a grand jury, the nation will surely be sitting on the edge of their seats watching.
- Find a Chicago Criminal Attorney (FindLaw)
- What is the 'Stand Your Ground' Law in California? (The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog)
- Stand Your Ground Laws and the Curious Case of Trayvon Martin (Phoenix Criminal Law News)