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Self-defense laws in Washington, Idaho differ from Florida’s

OLYMPIA – In Washington and Idaho, there is no statute that gives anyone the right to “stand your ground” and use deadly force in public when faced with a perceived threat.

Both states have fairly standard laws covering justifiable homicide or self-defense, particularly when a person is in his or her own home.

But neither state has passed a law like the one at the heart of a controversial shooting of a black teenager by a community-watch volunteer, although some news websites and television networks claim they have.

Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman one month ago as Martin was walking to a relative’s home in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman reported Martin as a suspicious person to police and disobeyed an order to stay in his vehicle; he got out, there was a struggle and Zimmerman shot Martin. He wasn’t arrested or charged. Florida’s 2005 stand-your-ground law gives police the authority to decide whether they believe it supports a claim of self-defense.

Some groups say nearly half the states have stand-your-ground laws similar to Florida, but those claims may overstate reality. ProPublica, Mother Jones and the Legal Community Against Violence, CBS and NBC have published maps showing Washington and Idaho as states that have passed such laws, but officials in both states say that’s not the case.

“Idaho does not have a stand-your-ground law,” Bob Cooper of the Idaho attorney general’s office said.

There has been no attempt to introduce such a law in recent years, although there was a bill to expand the “castle” doctrine to include the ability to use deadly force against perceived threats in one’s own home, Mike Nugent of Idaho legislative services said. “It didn’t make it far.”

Idaho allows a person to argue justifiable or excusable homicide as a defense, but that’s different than having a stand-your-ground law on the books.

A stand-your-ground bill was introduced in Washington last year, but the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he wouldn’t give it a hearing, and supporters didn’t heavily lobby him for one.

“This is an abuse of the self-defense law,” Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said. “This is a license to kill.”

Common law that dates to 15th- or 16th-century England says a person has “a duty to retreat” before using deadly force to defend against a violent threat outside the home, said Kline, who is an attorney. When inside your home, there’s no such requirement.

Some states put that duty to retreat into statute, said Aldo Melchiori, counsel for the Washington Senate Judiciary Committee. “We don’t have a stand-your-ground statute or a duty-to-retreat statute.”

The Washington Supreme Court has ruled in some cases that a person facing an imminent threat need not retreat, but those involve cases where a person has been arrested, charged and tried, and had to prove the incident was self-defense.

Laws covering duty to retreat or the ability to stand your ground vary and are nuanced. Some groups like the Legal Community Against Violence combine actual statutes with court rulings to compile lists. Sam Hoover, a spokesman for that organization, said it has had to revise its map three times in the last week and will re-examine whether Washington and Idaho should be listed.

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