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'Stand your ground' law coming soon

Posted: July 29, 2013 - 12:00am

FAIRBANKS — On the heels of the George Zimmerman trial in Florida, Alaska’s own “stand your ground” law goes into effect in September.

The law allows deadly force in self-defense when a person could otherwise safely leave an altercation.

Opponents argue it encourages unnecessary violence, The Fairbanks News-Miner reported in Sunday’s newspaper. But the law’s supporters say it ensures people won’t have to second-guess themselves in dangerous situations.

The law has raised concerns among many, including NAACP organizers who put together a rally against the law earlier this month in Anchorage. Many opponents fear the law will be unfairly biased against minorities, pointing to cases in the Lower 48.

In Florida, Zimmerman said he shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, in self-defense. He was acquitted this month of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. The Florida version of the law was not used in Zimmerman’s defense, but it was central to the case and was included in instructions to the jury.

The Fairbanks News-Miner reports that Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, was a “yes” vote and said in an interview this week that he felt the “stand your ground” measure ensures the law is on the side of the public and not criminals.

“People can be put in dangerous circumstances very rapidly these days; protection is one of the things that you can do,” he said. “Those things happen in a split second.”

The stand your ground law expands on Alaska’s “castle doctrine,” a law Coghill helped pass, which gives people strong protections to use deadly force in self-defense in their homes or workplaces.

However, the castle doctrine requires a person leave the place of an altercation “if the person knows that, with complete personal safety and with complete safety as to others being defended, the person can avoid the necessity of using deadly force by leaving the area of the encounter.”

There are exemptions to what’s called the “duty to retreat,” including on owned or rented property, property where the person is a guest or at a person’s workplace.

The new provisions of the stand your ground law eliminate the duty to retreat for “any other place where the person has a right to be.”

Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, was the lone Interior lawmaker to vote against the law when it passed the House earlier this year. Guttenberg said he heard no persuasive arguments for passing the law.

“It was talking points about how people should be able to defend yourself. You can defend yourself now. When you feel safe and you can put your gun down and put your baseball bat down,” he said. “If you felt threatened, you can defend yourself. When you no longer feel there’s a threat, you shouldn’t be able to go on the offensive.”

Alaska law currently permits the use of deadly force in self-defense in cases where a person “reasonably believes the use of deadly force is necessary” to avoid death, serious physical injury, kidnapping, sexual assault in first and second degree, sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree and robbery.

Guttenberg said people are already completely protected by the current law.

“(The stand your ground) law just allows people to go on the offensive,” he said. “It doesn’t do what people think it does, and people will get the idea that they can shoot people wherever they want. I just think we went too far.”

An administrative review of the bill provided to Gov. Sean Parnell before signing noted that it “may complicate certain criminal prosecutions,” without detailing what those may entail.

However, Attorney General Michael Geraghty says in the review that “the language in the bill does not present any legal concerns.”

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