Stand Your Ground? Oregon Straddles the Fence

Man pointing gun directly at camera.According to Oregon Statute 161.209, “a person is justified in using physical force upon another person for self-defense or to defend a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force, and the person may use a degree of force which the person reasonably believes to be necessary for the purpose.”

You may have noticed the ambiguity there.

Unlike other states like Florida, which was the first state to pass a “Stand Your Ground” law in 2005, most states use the principle of a “duty to retreat” when you’re outside your home.  That’s what Florida’s law did. It declared for the first time that citizens had no duty to retreat.  As long as they were not themselves committing a crime, and were in a place they had the right to be in, they were justified in using deadly force to defend themselves.

Until Florida made the change, this “duty to retreat” was the cornerstone of self-defense law.  It maintains that when one is attacked while not in their own home, they have to attempt to run away before they may use deadly force in self-defense. Oregon code is unclear on this, not stating either way.  In 1982, the state supreme court ruled that Oregon did indeed require an attempt to retreat, and thus had no “stand your ground,” provision. In 2007, the State Supreme Court reversed itself and ruled that no such attempt was implicit in the self-defense statute.

The Stand Your Ground law controversy has intensified because of the Trayvon Martin shooting, even though it was never actually evoked in court. George Zimmerman had an opportunity to activate a “Stand Your Ground hearing” before the trial started.  If he had and had won, the case would have been thrown out and the state would have to pick up his legal tab. Zimmerman chose not to invoke his right to a hearing, and instead his defense focused on classic self-defense law.

The Zimmerman verdict ensures we’ll be seeing much debate on this across the country, and almost definitely in Oregon.

By Ygal Kaufman