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Huge Precedents in 'Stand Your Ground?' Will Zimmerman Be Next?

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What will be the future of Stand Your Ground laws? Looks like the courts may be working their way toward clearer guidelines for when and how it applies...

In one case, a judge refused to grant stand-your-ground protection to Trevor Dooley, a 69-year-old man accused of manslaughter in the death of David James.

In the case, Dooley walked out of his house to confront a teenager who was skateboarding on the community basketball court, where it wasn't allowed. But before he left his house, Dooley put a gun in the waistband of his pants. Why? Who knows.

David James, 41, a "decorated Air Force veteran" according to news reports, stepped between Dooley and the teen. According to eyewitnesses, Dooley flashed his gun at James, at which point James tried to disarm him. They struggled and James was shot once in the chest -- he died on the scene, in front of his eight-year-old daughter.

Here is the critical comment from the judge's ruling yesterday: "Based on this evidence, the court finds that (the) defendant was the initial aggressor who provoked the use of force against him by drawing his gun during the argument with Mr. James." [emphasis added]

The finding could have big implications for George Zimmerman, who is accused of shooting unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was armed and pursued Martin, disobeying direct orders from a 911 operator, before the fatal confrontation that took Martin's life.

In the other case, Marissa Alexander's husband had threatened to kill her. She was at home when he confronted her, and she fired one shot in his direction to try to scare him. He was not injured, but the judge still gave her 20 years. (see Slate for more)

The findings are key to Zimmerman's case in several ways:

  • In the Dooley case the judge ruled that an aggressor who provokes violence cannot turn around and claim "stand your ground" as a defense.
  • In the Alexander case, the judge's ruling hinged on the fact that she ran out of the room to get the gun and came back to confront her husband, which undermined the idea of "imminent" threat.
  • Both of these defendants are black, and both were arrested following the shootings. (Zimmerman was neither black nor arrested at the scene.)

It remains to be seen how these cases will affect the Zimmerman-Martin case, and whether Stand Your Ground laws will be modified in the state legislatures, or whether it will be left to the courts to interpret these laws as they stand.

But right now the trend is not looking good for Zimmerman...