Self-Defense or Illegal Homicide? Is ‘Stand-Your-Ground’ Evolving?

This undated family photo provided by Lincoln B. Alexander shows, Marissa Alexander in her car in Tampa, Fla. Alexander had never been arrested before she fired a bullet at a wall one day in 2010 to scare off her husband when she felt he was threatening her. Nobody got hurt, but this month a northeast Florida judge was bound by state law to sentence her to 20 years in prison. (AP Photo/Lincoln B. Alexander)
Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20-years for firing a warning shot at her ex-husband inside their home in August 2010. A Stand Your Ground was not allowed. (AP/Lincoln B. Alexande)
Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20-years for firing a warning shot at her ex-husband inside their home in August 2010. A Stand Your Ground was not allowed.
(AP/Lincoln B. Alexande)

Patrik Jonsson, THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

ATLANTA (Christian Science Monitor) — Again and again American juries, including one in Reno, Nev., on Friday, are being asked to adjudicate a thorny legal question under a new breed of “stand-your-ground” laws: What’s the difference between self-defense and murder?

Verdict by verdict, such cases are educating US gun owners on the limits of the law, and, at least to some extent, clarifying for all Americans that the laws rarely protect people who willingly put themselves into potentially dangerous situations, and then open fire.

Stand-your-ground laws have their legal roots in an 1895 US Supreme Court case, where justices ruled that a homeowner has the right to “stand his ground” to save his or her own life from an unprovoked attack. Since Florida expanded that right into public spaces in 2005, over 30 other states have followed suit, in essence giving gun owners more leeway to claim self-defense.

After six hours of deliberation, the Reno jury found retired school teacher Wayne Burgarello not guilty on murder charges stemming from last year’s killing of an unarmed trespasser, Cody Devine, who was squatting in an abandoned, rundown rental unit that Mr. Burgarello owned.

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