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Federal lawsuit targets Georgia's 'stand your ground' law

A federal lawsuit filed in Atlanta asks a judge to declare Georgia's "stand your ground" law unconstitutional.

The complaint was filed Monday in Atlanta by The Rainbow PUSH Coalition, which was founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., and says the 2006 law is applied unevenly and allows people to use deadly force in self-defense as a preventive measure rather than as a last resort. The complaint also says the law is particularly harmful to racial minorities.

"The Act does not account for societal and cultural biases which result in a presumption of criminality (or presumptions of victimization) against certain socio-economic and ethnic groups which results in the unequal allocation of the presumption of the presentation of an eminent threat sufficient to justify the use of deadly force," the lawsuit says.

Georgia's law says a person is justified in threatening or using force if they believe it is necessary to protect themself or another person.

Two additional plaintiffs in the lawsuit — the estate of a man who was shot by someone who claimed self-defense and a man who said he shot someone in self-defense but was convicted of murder — are used to illustrate the alleged inconsistent application of the law.

The lawsuit names Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens as defendants. A spokeswoman for Olens declined to comment.

Lawyer Robert Patillo, who filed the suit, said he's not aware of any similar lawsuits having been filed in other states that have "stand your ground" laws.

Carrie and James Christopher Johnson Jr. are the parents of Chris Johnson, a young black man who was fatally shot by Adam Lee Edmondson, a white man, following a fight over comments Edmondson is alleged to have made to Johnson's girlfriend, the lawsuit says. Edmondson was charged with murder but invoked the "stand your ground" law in his defense and was found not guilty of murder.

Herman Lee Smith III is a young black man who was convicted of felony murder in August in the death of Cardarius Stegall, another black man. Stegall walked toward Smith with a gun, and Smith shot him to protect himself or other people, the lawsuit says. A witness at Smith's trial testified Stegall was walking toward a third man who was standing next to Smith when the shooting took place. A jury convicted him, finding that he didn't have a "reasonable belief" that his life was in danger.

"Stand your ground" laws have gotten a lot of attention recently following the killing of Trayvon Martin. Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in July in the February 2011 slaying of the unarmed 17-year-old in Sanford, Florida Zimmerman claimed he shot the teen in self-defense, citing the state's "stand your ground" law. Martin's father has called for a repeal of Florida's statute.