Oklahoma's Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground Laws

The not guilty verdict in the murder trial of George Zimmerman was met with shouts of support and cries of dismay. Those who agree with the verdict say that a man has the right to protect himself and to use lethal force in his own defense. Those who disagree with the verdict say that Zimmerman got away with murder, that if he had just remained in his vehicle as instructed, Trayvon Martin would be alive today.

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Regardless of one's personal view, the prosecution failed to prove its case and failed to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman violated the law and committed murder outside the state's Stand Your Ground Law. Since Martin's death, Stand Your Ground laws across the nation have come under intense scrutiny.

In some states, the use of lethal force in self defense is justifiable only if an intruder enters one's home. The Castle Doctrine supports a person's right to be safe in his or her own home. States have varying degrees of rigidity in applying the Castle Doctrine, and some states have no Castle law on the books at all. However, 24 states, including Oklahoma, have "Stand Your Ground" laws, which take self-defense beyond the confines of one's home.

Understanding Oklahoma's Stand Your Ground Laws

Stand Your Ground laws say that a person has no duty to retreat if confronted by someone engaged in criminal activity, and that they can protect themselves with lethal force if they believe that their own lives are in jeopardy. Oklahoma's self defense laws--including a Castle law and Stand Your Ground law--are part of the Oklahoma Firearms Act of 1971 and are delineated in 21 O.S. 1289.25 of the state penal code:

A.The Legislature hereby recognizes that the citizens of the State of Oklahoma have a right to expect absolute safety within their own homes or places of business.

B. A person or an owner, manager or employee of a business is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if: 1. The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle, or a place of business, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against the will of that person from the dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle, or place of business; and 2. The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred. . . .

C. A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

D. A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter the dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle of another person, or a place of business is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.

E. A person who uses force, as permitted pursuant to the provisions of subsections B and D of this section, is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force. As used in this subsection, the term "criminal prosecution" includes charging or prosecuting the defendant.

F. A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force, but the law enforcement agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.

Although the state's self defense laws are permissive, unreasonable force is not acceptable or justifiable in a court of law. Pharmacist Jerome Ersland found this out when he was convicted of first degree murder for shooting an attempted robber at the Reliable Discount Pharmacy. Ersland acted within the scope of the law when he shot Antwun "Speedy" Parker the first time, but when he returned to shoot a downed assailant five more times after he was incapacitated, his actions were deemed excessive. Ersland was sentenced to life in prison.

If you are a gun owner, it is imperative that you understand the state's self defense laws. If you are criminally charged for an action you believe to be self defense, consult an experienced lawyer as quickly as possible.