Is Every Self-Defense Claim a 'Stand Your Ground' Case Now?


I have noted several times that the focus on the right to "stand your ground" in the Trayvon Martin case is puzzling, since it does not seem to play any role in George Zimmerman's defense. Although Zimmerman did shoot Martin in a public place, if the fight unfolded as he claims he did not have an opportunity to retreat. Here is another case that supposedly involves the right to stand your ground but does not really: Shanterrica Madden is on trial in Tennessee for stabbing her roommate, Middle Tennessee State University basketball player Tina Stewart, to death last year in the apartment they shared, which she claims she did in self-defense. Under the USA Today headline ""Stand Your Ground' Law to Surface in Tenn. College Slaying," here is how the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal describes the context of the case:

Madden's claim of self-defense comes at a time of intense national debate over what are known as "stand your ground" self-defense laws, resulting from the fallout of the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman.

What those "stand your ground" laws do is extend the right for a person to protect himself or herself from the threat of imminent death or bodily harm to any place, public or private, where that person has the right to be, says MTSU criminal justice professor Lance Selva, an attorney.

"These laws are an extension of what is known as the castle doctrine, which gives one the right to defend oneself in the home without retreating," he said. "What these laws do is remove the duty to retreat even outside of the home."

What does that have to do with this case, where the fight occurred in a residence shared by the defendant and her alleged victim? The paper never says. Like Florida's statute, Tennessee's self-defense law, which was amended in 2007, does have a provision strengthening the castle doctrine that applies in the home, but it does not seem relevant to Madden's stabbing of Stewart. It says a person "is presumed to have held a reasonable belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury" when using deadly force against an intruder who "unlawfully and forcibly enters" his "residence, business, dwelling or vehicle." Since Stewart had a right to be in the apartment as a resident, it is hard to see how this provision could help Madden. In fact, the presumption explicitly does not apply to "a lawful resident," unless an order of protection has been issued against him. As The Daily News Journal implicitly concedes, that leaves questions of the sort that would have to be addressed in any case where someone claims his use of deadly force was justified by self-defense: 

The first issue is whether the person claiming self-defense had a "reasonable belief" that he or she was threatened….

The next issue is whether the person claiming self-defense did anything to place himself or herself in a situation that would have necessitated the use of deadly force….

Another issue in the cases is whether the kind of force used by the person claiming self-defense was appropriately applied. Was the use of force justified or excessive?…

In the Madden case, [Selva] said, "the jury will have to decide at some point if it believes it was necessary for Shanterrica Madden to use the knife to defend herself."

It is true that Florida has a "stand your ground" law, and it is true that George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in Florida. But that does not necessarily mean the shooting or the outcome of the criminal case against Zimmerman can be explained by new or unusual aspects of Florida's law. Likewise, not every self-defense case in Tennessee hinges on recent changes to its law. Unless The Daily News Journal omitted some crucial facts, the prosecution of Shanterrica Madden pretty plainly does not.