As Missouri Case Shows, Stand Your Ground May Not Prove Relevant Defense

So-called “stand your ground” laws have received much national attention, especially after one such law was invoked in George Zimmerman’s successful defense (State of Florida v. Zimmerman) relating to Trayvon Martin’s death in February 2012.

But at least one case in Missouri has demonstrated that killings can be deemed justified on broader, more complex grounds than the right to stand one’s ground under Missouri law.

In May 2013, Brandon Coleman was shot to death by Dustin Deacon in Columbia, Missouri. Before he died, Coleman was brandishing a gun at Deacon’s father, who had been attempting to drive Coleman from his property. Deacon’s father was armed with a large knife during the confrontation.

Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight ruled that Coleman’s killing was justified under Missouri law; Deacon reasonably felt that force was needed to defend his father from the imminent use of unlawful force by Coleman.

“Force used in defense of another can include deadly force if the person reasonably believes deadly force is necessary to protect the other against death, serious physical injury or any forcible felony,” Knight wrote in a letter explaining his decision.

Missouri’s “castle doctrine” law would have acted as the governing legal authority. Such laws share some noticeable similarities with the better-known stand your ground legislation.

Under the state’s castle doctrine law, a person is permitted to use force against an intruder who unlawfully enters or tries to enter a residence, vehicle or private property that is lawfully occupied by the person, who need not retreat in such circumstances — as was deemed the case with Deacon’s father.

At first blush, the distinction between the two concepts is not entirely clear.

“The line between the castle doctrine and stand your ground has been a little bit blurred,” said Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd.

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