There is a well-known but often misunderstood law in Alabama informally known as the “stand your ground” law.
Most people misunderstand this law to mean that if you’re in a situation where you feel your life is threatened, you have the right to shoot or use deadly force against a person.
In fact, there is more criteria that must be met before you can claim the defense of standing your ground. First, you must be justified in using deadly force against a person. This means that you are defending yourself or another person from what you believe is unlawful, physical force.
Put simply, you are allowed to use deadly force against another person if you reasonably believe they are about to use deadly force on you. This means if someone is shooting a gun near your head, you are justified in using whatever force necessary to protect yourself from this person.
If you are justified in using deadly force, the next standard you must meet is that you must not be engaged in an unlawful activity at the time you are “standing your ground.” And lastly, to meet all the criteria to claim the stand your ground defense, you must be in a place where you have a right to be. For example, you have the right to be in a place like your own home or the home of a family member or friend that’s invited you there.
You do not have the right to trespass on someone’s business after hours. Only if you have met all these criteria are you allowed to claim the defense, meaning you have no duty to retreat and may “stand your ground.”
The explanation of this law comes from a case that involved a shootout between a few men at a home in Montgomery County. Jordan Thomas went to a man named Frederick Pierce’s house in October 2012 attempting to locate a man there who owed him money. Dennis Johnson, a man who had prior altercations with Thomas, was also at Pierce’s house.
Once Thomas and his friends Cory McQueen and Shawn Williams arrived at the house, shots were fired. After the altercation ended, Dennis Johnson died from gunshot wounds. Jordan Thomas admitted to shooting Johnson, was convicted of his murder, and sentenced to 75 years imprisonment.
Because Thomas claimed self-defense, the law surrounding self-defense was supposed to be explained to the jury. While some aspects of self-defense were explained, the jury was not instructed on stand your ground laws.
Thomas appealed this decision still citing self-defense and asserting the right to stand his ground. During the appeal, Pierce testified that Thomas was not forbidden from coming to his house and that nothing unlawful was happening at Pierce’s residence at the time of the shooting.
After Pierce’s testimony, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that the trial court was wrong not to instruct the jury on “stand your ground” laws of self-defense. The jury did not receive complete information because they were not instructed that Thomas did not have to retreat unless he was somewhere he was forbidden to be or was engaged in unlawful activity. As neither of these facts could be substantiated, the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial court’s conviction.
This case shows how important it is to have an attorney who not only knows the criminal code, but also proper criminal procedure. Thomas’s attorney recognized that the jury had not been properly instructed, and because of this error, was able to have the trial court’s judgment reversed.
If you are facing criminal charges, call Alabama Criminal Attorney Joseph A. Ingram at (205) 656-0044.