The Cautionary Instruction: 'Stand your ground' back in the news

Friday, 06 December 2013 06:00 AM Written by  Matt Mangino

20131206 guns photocom164459430 150The controversial self-defense law known as ‘Stand Your Ground’ is back in the news. Two tragic killings, one in a small north Georgia community near the Tennessee border and the other in Dearborn Heights a suburb of Detroit, have once again heightened awareness of the law.

In Georgia, 72-year-old Ronald Westbrook, suffering from Alzheimer’s had wondered away from his home in the frigid early morning hours the day before Thanksgiving.

Westbrook ended up nearly three miles from home with a handful of other people’s mail, jiggling the doorknob of a home owned by Joe Hendrix.

Hendrix, a 34-year-old Iraq war veteran, stepped onto his porch with a Glock pistol in his hand and his fiancée inside on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. He fired four shots. One hit Westbrook in the chest killing him

Last month, Theodore Wafer was charged with murder in Wayne County, Michigan after he blasted Renisha McBride in the head with a shotgun after she knocked on his door following a car crash.

McBride was under the influence of alcohol when she was injured in an automobile accident and wandered away from the scene and on to Wafer’s porch in the middle of the night.

Prosecutor Kym Worthy said 'self-defense was not warranted'. The prosecutor believed that Wafer could not have reasonably believed his 'life was in imminent danger'

Laws in at least 22 states allow that there is no duty to retreat from an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present. (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.) At least nine of those states include language stating one may “stand his or her ground.” (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.) 

Pennsylvania's expanded castle doctrine gives individuals the right to use deadly force without retreating anywhere they are legally allowed to be, provided they reasonably believe they are facing death, serious injury, kidnapping or rape, per 18 Pa.C.S. Sec. 505. The key difference is, in Pennsylvania, the aggressor must be armed with a gun or other lethal weapon capable of inflicting death or serious bodily injury

More states are jumping on board. The Ohio House of Representatives voted recently to adopt a variation of the stand your ground.

The legislation has been mockingly referred to as the “George Zimmerman bill,” named for the Florida man — recently arrested again — whose killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin fueled a national debate on stand your ground and self-defense.

Under current Ohio law, residents have a duty to retreat before using deadly force. Ohio House Bill 203 would eliminate the duty to retreat. The law would, under certain circumstances, permit the use of deadly force in self-defense.

(Image: lhfgraphics/Getty Images)

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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