ATLANTA (CN) – A Baptist minister sued Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia attorney general, challenging the state’s “Stand Your Ground Law,” which allows people to use deadly force outside their home if they feel threatened.
The Rev. Markel Hutchins, 32, a minister and civil rights leader, claim’s Georgia’s law, enacted in 2006, violates constitutional rights of due process and equal protection, and civil rights laws.
So-called Stand Your Ground laws have come under scrutiny since the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. Martin’s killer, Neighborhood Watch volunteer Georgia Zimmerman, was charged with second-degree murder on Wednesday, the day after Hutchins sued Gov. Deal and Attorney General Samuel Olens, in Federal Court.
Under Georgia’s law (O.C.G.A. 16-3-23.1), a person is justified in using force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to prevent the commission of a “forcible felony” if “he or she reasonably believes that such threat or force is necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person against such other’s imminent use of unlawful force,” according to Hutchins’ complaint.
Hutchins claims the law is unconstitutionally vague and wants its enforcement enjoined.
At issue is what constitutes a “reasonable fear,” Hutchins says in the complaint.
“It is without question that the determination of the reasonableness of one’s fear in the invocation of self-defense will differ in application if the decedent is an unarmed elderly white woman as opposed to an unarmed young black man,” the complaint states. “Thus the reasonable person standard with regards to the use of self-defense when an individual is standing one’s ground offers different levels of protection to individuals based upon their race.”
Before Georgia’s law took effect as part of S.B. 396, critics “argued that law-abiding citizens already enjoyed sufficient protection under Georgia law and the Act will ‘do nothing except make it more difficult to prosecute the overly trigger-happy among us.’ For these reasons no African-American Senator voted in favor of SB 396 which created the Act,” Hutchins says in the complaint.
“Critics further voice concerns regarding the ‘reasonable person’ standard. They feared that the Act’s reliance on a victim’s reasonable perception would lead to the unnecessary use of lethal force, especially when the alleged aggressor is of a different race, and that jurors will be sympathetic to that perception where they share a common race with the victim.
“SB 396 never defined what a reasonable perception constituted,” the complaint states.
It continues: “By not defining what actions create a reasonable perception justifying the use of deadly force, the Act, potentially deprives all Georgians’ of the right to life without due process of law in contravention of the 14th Amendment of the United
States Constitution as the law is so vague as to not apprise a person of common intelligence of the bounds of lawful behavior.
“Further, as the act does not define what evidence can be used to establish a person’s reasonable fear it creates the risk of arbitrary enforcement in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.
“Because the Act infringes upon the fundamental due process right of life it must be reviewed under strict scrutiny. United States v. Carolene Products Co., 304 U.S. 144, 58 S. Ct. 778, 82L. Ed. 1234 (1938).“
The complaint adds: “(B)y statutorily codifying the right to stand one’s ground outside of an individual’s residence or place of business, the Act created a new right for individuals to use deadly force based upon their ‘reasonable fear’ that a violent encounter may happen without first attempting to withdraw and without regard to the proportionality of the response. This new right allows individuals to respond to what they believe to be a threat with deadly force even where no deadly threat existed without the need to first attempt to escape the threat.
“By creating a right to kill based upon an individual’s reasonable fear without defining what circumstances would demonstrate ‘reasonable’ the Act will potentially deprives individuals of their lives without due process of law.
“As ‘reasonable’ is not defined there is no way for an individual to comport his action within the confines of the law and as to prevent being slayed due to the reasonable fear of another. …
“Additionally, courts around the country have accepted that the race of an individual is relevant evidence in determining the reasonableness of a claim of self-defense. See People v. Goetz, 68 N.Y.2d 96 (2001).”
Hutchins is represented by Robert H. Patillo II of Atlanta.