Self Defense And "Stand Your Ground" Defenses: What You Can Learn From Two Famous Cases

Posted on: 23 December 2015

A successful self-defense defense requires evidence that you weren't able to retreat and avoid the threat, you only used force necessary to meet the threat, and you stopped when the threat was over. Stand-your-ground laws do not require you to retreat when facing a threat, are more liberal about the amount of force that can be used, and expand coverage to meeting a life threatening situation with force anywhere you have a legal right to be (as long as you aren't engaged in an illegal activity). However, if you ever need to defend yourself with deadly force, you should be aware of certain factors in recent cases involving these defenses.

The Loud Music Murder Case

In the "Loud Music Murder Case" Michael Dunn and his girlfriend pulled into a gas station parking lot next to a SUV with 4 teenagers who were playing hip-hop music loudly. As Dunn's girlfriend went into the mini-mart, he asked the teenagers to turn their music down. The driver complied but another of the boys, a seventeen year old named Jordan Davis, objected and told the driver to turn it back up. He cursed Dunn and was hostile.

Then Dunn claimed that Davis started coming out of the vehicle and he saw the barrel of a gun. So he reached in his glove compartment and got his handgun out. He ended up firing ten rounds into the vehicle. Jordan Davis received several of the shots and died from his injuries that night. Dunn was eventually convicted of first degree murder, and three counts of attempted murder. 

What harmed his stand-your-ground defense was that he claimed he told his girlfriend that he saw a weapon in the SUV several times that evening, but she was unable to corroborate his story. She also testified that Dunn made a comment about hating 'that thug music" as they pulled in. ("Thug" has now become an objectionable term because it is felt to be code for an racial slur.)

The driver claimed the child-lock was on and there was no weapon, so Davis could not have opened the vehicle door while holding it. Dunn left the scene without calling the police. Some also felt the man needlessly escalated the provocation to a dangerous level by not moving his car to another spot or by choosing to ignore the music. 

To learn more, contact a lawyer in your area. 

Comparisons with the Trayvon Martin Case

This incident has been compared to the famous Trayvon Martin case, which is often erroneously considered a stand-your-ground case. There are several important differences in this case that explain why George Zimmerman was ultimately acquitted of second degree murder.

On February 26, 2012, Zimmerman, working as a neighborhood watch volunteer, called the police when he noticed a youth walking around the neighborhood possibly looking for easy burglary targets. The dispatcher told Zimmerman not to approach Martin, but he did it anyway. This resulted in an altercation that led to Zimmerman being pinned down and pummeled by Martin. Zimmerman then shot the young man dead. 

A doctor's report showed that Zimmerman had a fractured nose, two black eyes, and lacerations on the back of his head. When he was charged with murder, his defense attorneys decided to forego the stand-your-ground defense because at the time of the incident, Zimmerman was pinned down and unable to retreat.

There was no evidence of racial or ethnic motivations, and Zimmerman was from a multi-racial family. Other factors for acquittal include the criticism that he was over-charged for the incident and there was little or no concrete evidence to refute Zimmerman's claim of self-defense, so while the jury may have been concerned over his initial actions, there was plenty of room for reasonable doubt when it came to the actual shooting.


An increasing number of states have stand-your-ground laws. Some persons with an imperfect understanding of expanded self-defense laws have tried to use them in ways that were not intended by the law-makers that crafted them. Your actions should be justifiable and reasonable in a self-defense situation. Jurors should be able to see themselves reacting similarly if caught in a comparable situation.

Even though the duty to retreat is not required in stand-your-ground defenses, the laws do not give you open license to use deadly force in situations where provocation could have been avoided. If you claim that your life was threatened, the evidence should back you up. You should notify the police about incident as soon as possible. You would also never want to give the impression that you have a reckless disregard for human life or that you are unfairly prejudiced or judgmental of the other person(s) involved.