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'Stand your ground' laws: Do they put teens in greater danger?

Three shooting deaths in the past week raise questions about whether prank-prone and reckless teens are particularly vulnerable under states' 'castle doctrine' and 'stand your ground' laws.

By Staff writer / November 29, 2012

Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis, is embraced as he arrives at the funeral home for the visitation and a memorial service for his son Jordan on Wednesday in Jacksonville, Fla.

Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union/AP



Recent events are raising questions about whether "stand your ground" and "castle doctrine" laws – which offer legal protection to people who hurt or kill someone in self-defense – could disproportionately harm teenagers.

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During the past week, three teenagers in states with such laws were shot to death for doing things that, critics of the laws say, teenagers regularly get caught doing.

In Florida, unarmed 17-year-old Jordan Davis was allegedly shot and killed by 40-something Michael Dunn after an argument about a loud car stereo outside a convenience store. 

And in Minnesota, retired State Department employee Byron David Smith allegedly wounded and then killed two teenagers, Haile Kifer and Nicholas Brady, who broke into his house on Thanksgiving, apparently on a hunt for prescription drugs.

This week also saw three teen boys charged with murder in Alabama after their friend, Summer Moody, was shot in April. When a man caught the four breaking into fishing cottages in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, he allegedly fired a warning shot that killed Summer in what a district attorney called a "tragic accident." On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted the three boys, not the man who shot Summer. 

"Alabama’s law is not quite like Florida’s stand your ground law, but it is close," Tommy Chapman, a local district attorney, told The Mobile Press-Register

Especially in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting in February, castle doctrine and stand your ground laws are under growing scrutiny. Though they vary by state, the laws are founded on the idea that lawful citizens have no "duty to retreat" from danger in and around their dwelling or even in public. Dozens of states have passed such laws in the past 10 years.

But critics say the laws could significantly raise the stakes for teenagers engaging in stupid pranks and petty crime.

These new laws "are going to disproportionately result in more consequences to teenagers that are beyond the scope of what the kids were really doing," says Kathleen Stilling, a former Wisconsin circuit judge and currently a lawyer in Brookfield, Wis. The worry, she adds, is that teenagers doing things "that are not capital offenses end up facing deadly consequences."


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