“Stand Your Ground” Increases Racial Bias

6858755788_42a98f0f24Yesterday a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder in the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin. The decision was based on a law colloquially called “stand your ground” (SYG) which allows people to use proportionate force in the face of an attack without first trying to retreat or escape. More than 20 states have such laws.

At MetroTrends Blog, John Roman and Mitchell Downey report their analysis of  4,650 FBI records of homicides in which a person killed a stranger with a handgun. They conclude that stand your ground “tilts the odds in favor of the shooter.”  In SYG states, 13.6 percent of homicides were ruled justifiable; in non-SYG states, only 7.2 percent were deemed such.  This is strong evidence that rulings of justifiable homicide are more likely under stand your ground.

But which homicides?

The very kind decided in the Zimmerman trial.  A finding of “justifiable homicide” is much more common in the case of a white-on-black killing than any other kind including a white and a black person. At PBS’s request, Roman compared the likelihood of a favorable finding for the defendant in SYG and non SYG cases, consider the races of the people involved.  The data is clear, compared to white-on-white crimes: Stand your ground decreases the likelihood of conviction, but only when a white person is accused of killing a black person.


It’s simple: SYG laws increase the chances that a homicide will be considered justifiable because it gives the jurors more leeway to give defendants the benefit of the doubt.  But, jurors will likely give that benefit of the doubt to certain kinds of defendants and not others. Stand your ground may or may not be a good law in theory, but in practice it increases racial bias in legal outcomes.

Crossposted from Sociological Images

Photo of New York protest march in March 2012 from Flickr user david_shankbone under license from Creative Commons 2.0


  1. Interesting stats, but Zimmerman did not utilize a Stand Your Grand Defense. There is a difference between Stand Your Ground and regular self-defense claim. He used regular self-defense claim.

    • An accused CAN’T chose which law applies to his case! And also, as juror B37 stated in the interview, the jury did discuss “stand your ground”.

      • Actually, an affirmative defense like Stand Your Ground must by DEFINITION be affirmatively asserted by the Defendant.

        The article states that “yesterday a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder in the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin. The decision was based on a law colloquially called “stand your ground” (SYG)” This is incorrect.

        Process is: If a defendant wants to invoke this defense then he/she must motion the Judge to allow him to present the defense (b/c it is a threshold question and I believe is decided without jury). The judge then decides on the case. HOWEVER, here, Zimmerman never invoked Stand Your Ground. He only invoked the general self-defense.

        If the jurors did discuss that defense it was error, but i dont expect people (on either side of the argument) to be weighed down by silly things like facts

  2. Nora Edwards says:

    And only applies when the shooter is male.

  3. Ayinde Flores says:

    The self defense statute in Florida is the same as stand your ground. There is no duty to retreat. Here are the relevant parts of the jury instructions:

    “In deciding whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you must judge him by the circumstances by which he was surrounded at the time the force was used. The danger facing George Zimmerman need not have been actual; however, to justify the use of deadly force, the appearance of danger must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force. Based upon appearances, George Zimmerman must have actually believed that the danger was real.

    If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in anyplace where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

  4. William J Urmson says:

    The NRA is the biggest domestic terrorist group in the United States, maybe the world. They love their guns more than people. With politicians in their pockets all we can do is brace ourselves for the next NRA sponsored slaughter.
    The policies and laws created by The NRA killed the kids in Newtown and allowed the vigilante George Zimmerman to murder Trayvon Martin.
    STAND YOUR GROUND is nothing more than a license to legally hunt and kill African Americans PERIOD~

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