South Carolina prosecutors are causing controversy with their interpretation of the Stand Your Ground law.
The topic of domestic violence as it pertains to the contentious law was brought to light over the case of Whitlee Jones, who stabbed her boyfriend Eric Lee in their home in 2012. Hours before the stabbing, she was dragged by her hair down the street by Lee and blocked in their driveway when she tried to pack her things to leave. Jones was charged with murder, but the case was later dropped when a judge granted her immunity under the Stand Your Ground law.
Prosecutors believe the law shouldn’t apply to Jones’ case because one: it’s a domestic violence case, and two: the initial attack was outside, not in the home, which the law covers.
In the cases of women who claim they feared for their lives when confronted with violent intimate abusers, prosecutors say the Stand Your Ground law shouldn’t apply.
“(The Legislature’s) intent … was to provide law-abiding citizens greater protections from external threats in the form of intruders and attackers,” prosecutor Culver Kidd told the Post and Courier. “We believe that applying the statute so that its reach into our homes and personal relationships is inconsistent with (its) wording and intent.”
On October 3, Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson sided with Jones and granted her Stand Your Ground immunity, meaning she is exempt from trial on the charge. In response to Kidd’s argument that individuals could not invoke Stand Your Ground to defend against violence in their own homes, Nicholson said that dynamic would create the “nonsensical result” that a victim of domestic abuse could defend against an attacker outside of the home, but not inside the home – where the most vicious domestic violence is likely to occur.
Kidd is unsatisfied with this reasoning, and is appealing the case to argue that Jones and other defendants like her can’t invoke the Stand Your Ground law so long as they are in their home. The Post and Courier reports that there are two other similar cases coming up the pike that are being pursued by the same prosecutor’s office. In one, a judge who dismissed a murder charge against a women who stabbed a roommate attacking her called the charge “appalling.” In another, the defendant’s attorney plans to ask for a Stand Your Ground hearing.
Laws against self-defense in general in South Carolina are slim to none. Under the Castle Doctrine, victims are able to use deadly force against intruders, but the rule doesn’t apply when the home is shared.
In Jones’ case, she and Lee shared the home, therefore prosecutors claim this law null and void.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, the top prosecutor for that office, is also siding with Kidd. Wilson and Kidd do have a legal basis for their arguments. South Carolina is one of several states that has two self-defense provisions. One known as the Castle Doctrine authorizes occupants to use deadly force against intruders. Recently, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that this provision could not apply to fellow occupants of the home, in a case involving roommates, although that ruling was since withdrawn and the case is being re-heard this week. The Stand Your Ground law contains a separate provision that authorizes deadly force in self-defense against grave bodily harm or death in another place “where he has a right to be.” Prosecutors are arguing that neither of these laws permit one occupant of a home to use deadly force against another. But as Nicholson points out, this interpretation would yield the perverse result that both self-defense provisions explicitly exempt domestic abusers when they perpetrate violence within their own home.
The Stand Your Ground law has been the forefront of many cases, including George Zimmerman and Marissa Alexander. The law was recently changed in light of Alexander’s case, when warning shots were added as a form of self-defense.
As prosecutors fight against Jones’ case, domestic violence in South Carolina continues to pose a problem.
The Post and Courier, which originally reported prosecutors’ position, has been doing a series on domestic violence over the past few months, in which it found that women are dying at a rate of one every 12 days from domestic abuse in South Carolina, a state “awash in guns, saddled with ineffective laws and lacking enough shelters for the battered … a state where the deck is stacked against women trapped in the cycle of abuse.” More than 70 percent of those who kill their spouse had “multiple prior arrests on those charges” and the majority spent just days in jail.
The state will also hear two other cases similar to Jones’. Both are fighting for a Stand Your Ground defense, as the cases of self-defense occurred in a shared home.
SOURCE: Think Progress | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty