[JURIST] A civil rights activist on Monday filed suit in the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia [official website] to challenge the state’s “No Duty to Retreat” law [text, PDF], a piece of legislation that he believes is too vague and may lead to bias-based killings of minorities. The lawsuit, filed by Rev. Markel Hutchins, finds support for its “vagueness” argument by asserting [AJC report] that “[i]t is not clear what actions would create ‘reasonable belief’ that deadly force is necessary,” thus “[a]n individual seeking to stand their ground … has no way of knowing if their ‘reasonable belief’ comports with the standards protected by the law.” The suit further contends that the law does not guarantee equal protection [Cornell LII backgrounder] to African Americans, as some courts have actually accepted a victim’s race as evidence to establish the reasonableness of a killer’s fear in cases of justifiable homicide. The office of the Georgia Attorney General [official website] declined to comment on the allegations.
Hutchins has publicly declared that his challenge to Georgia’s “No Duty to Retreat” law stems directly from the criticism of Florida’s similar “Stand Your Ground” law [text]. The latter remains engulfed in controversy since its invocation by George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin [ABC News backgrounder; Sanford Police report, PDF] in February. While the rationale of such laws is to dispense persons under attack of any legal obligation to retreat, at least one critic has argued [JURIST op-ed] that the law, particularly in the Trayvon Martin case, is not being applied with this rationale in mind. Georgia enacted its “No Duty to Retreat” law in 2006 while Florida enacted [JURIST reports] its “Stand Your Ground” law in 2005. Similar so-called “shoot first” laws currently exist in 19 other states.