The high profile murder trial of George Zimmerman has placed Florida's controversial "stand-your-ground" self-defense law at the forefront of Facebook posts and water cooler conversations throughout our community. This case, the most polarizing since the O.J. Simpson murder trial nearly 20 years ago, has pitted Ponchatoula's friends and neighbors against one another in heated debates. To Trayvon Martin’s supporters, the situation represents racial profiling and senseless violence against young black men. To Zimmerman’s defenders, it is a clear case of self-defense involving a reasonable belief he was at risk of serious bodily harm and had the right to respond with deadly force. Stand-your-ground laws state that a person may justifiably use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of an unlawful threat, without imposing an obligation to retreat first. Like Florida, Louisiana has a stand-your-ground law in place. Our statute is not identical to Florida law, but it is similar. Specifically, Louisiana's justifiable homicide law states "“When committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and that the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger." The law further provides that if you are not doing anything illegal and are acting in self-defense, you are not required to retreat before using deadly force. Stand-your-ground laws are frequently criticized and called "shoot first" laws. Critics argue that these laws makes it difficult to prosecute cases against murderers who shoot others and then claim self-defense because, in most cases, the only witness who could have argued otherwise is the victim who was shot and killed. Whether you agree with the stand-your-ground justifiable homicide statute or not, it is the law in Louisiana. This means that in deadly force self-defense cases like the Zimmerman trial, the jury must decide who started the altercation, whether a reasonable risk of great bodily harm existed, and whether the killing was necessary to prevent the harm.
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