By Robert Kittle
A state Senate subcommittee Thursday declined to vote on a bill to expand South Carolina’s “Stand Your Ground” law, with senators saying they see no reason to change the law. With two weeks left in the legislative session, the bill is likely dead.
Now, someone who kills someone and claims self-defense makes that argument during trial. Under this bill, instead there would be a preliminary hearing before a trial, and instead of the defendant proving why it was self-defense the state would have to prove that it wasn’t.
Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, sponsor of the bill, says, “If you’re the one who is protecting your life in your own home or in your own vehicle, yes, the state should have to prove you did something wrong before they can send you to jail.”
He says the bill would also streamline the court system. Having the hearing to decide the “Stand Your Ground” issue first means some trials wouldn’t have to take place. “Now, you can try your case, avail yourself of the Stand Your Ground law, and then an appellate court could find, the Supreme Court could later find out that you should not have been granted Stand Your Ground status, or maybe you should have been granted Stand Your Ground status and then you have to go and retry the case,” he says.
But senators on a Senate Judiciary subcommittee said they see no reason for changing the burden of proof, and 3rd Circuit Solicitor Chip Finney says the change would clog the court system, not streamline it, because someone denied “Stand Your Ground” status could appeal immediately, delaying the trial.
He says of the current law, “It is a fair act because it places the burden on the person who’s asking for it. The defendant who took the gun or took the knife and took a life has the duty to show a judge, only to a preponderance of the evidence, that he or she was in fear of their life and acted according to circumstances. This bill would change that.”
Senators heard from Lucy McBath, whose 17-year-old son Jordan Davis was killed in Jacksonville, Florida in November 2012. He and three friends were shopping on Black Friday and stopped at a convenience store to get chewing gum. Michael Dunn parked next to them and complained about their music being too loud, which started an argument between him and the four young men.
“He says, ‘You guys can’t talk to me that way.’ He takes his 9mm Glock out of his glove box and shoots 10 rounds in the car and then he drives off,” McBath says. Her son was killed.
Dunn used Florida’s Stand Your Ground law at his trial on charges of murder and attempted murder. McBath says, “Michael Dunn did exclaim that it was self-defense, that he feared for his life, they had a gun. There were no guns, no drugs, no alcohol, nothing on the boys, they were simply shopping.”
He was found guilty of attempted murder, but the jury deadlocked on the murder charge. When he was tried again, the second jury found him guilty.
McBath is adamant that expanding the law to make it easier for people to claim self-defense would be dangerous. “This bill offers pervasive incentives to those who shoot first and ask questions later and offers new legal protections for gun criminals,” she says.