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Is There A Cost to Standing Your Ground in Washington?


The George Zimmerman trial swept the media this fall when a Florida jury found him not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. There was much debate about whether the defense would argue that the shooting was justifiable under Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Instead, the case was argued on the basis of self-defense and Zimmerman was acquitted. What you may not know is that Florida is just one of many states that have stand your ground laws – and Washington is one of them.

What you should know about the law and why you should never handle your own case.

Washington’s Stand Your Ground Law

There are two different kinds of laws in our state – those that were passed by our state legislature and those that are called “case law” or “judge made law.” These are laws that arise out of rulings in legal cases. Washington’s stand your ground law is this latter type of law. It was established back in 2003 in the case State v Redmond. Reynaldo Raymond had been convicted of assault after a parking lot fight.

A court of appeals overturned the second degree assault conviction against Raymond because he was in a place he was legally entitled to be and the jury wasn’t informed that he was entitled to a stand your ground defense. Because he was not required to retreat when threatened, self-defense was arguable when he struck out at his antagonist. This case laid the groundwork for similar stand your ground defenses since then.

The Costs of Standing Your Ground

But now a new ruling has added a twist to the stand your ground laws and again it was the Washington state court of appeals that expanded the law. Spokane resident Tommy Villanueva was acquitted of assault under stand your ground laws in a self-defense argument for stabbing two men that had attacked him. Because of his arrest, Villanueva lost his job.

Washington state law provides that those acquitted of charges of violent crime under the self-defense argument will be reimbursed “for all reasonable costs, including loss of time, legal fees incurred, and other expenses involved in his or her defense.” Villanueva’s lawyers argued he should be reimbursed for lost wages because if he had not been wrongfully charged with a crime, he would never have lost his job.

What the Villanueva Ruling Means

The prosecutors in the case argued that Villanueva shouldn’t be awarded back wages because he was fired before the charges were filed but after his arrest. The appeals court said that the arrest triggered the firing and the government had to restore him to the state he was in before the arrest. Not only does the state now have to repay his wages but they also have to pay his court costs for fighting the request.

This ruling means that if you have to protect yourself or your loved ones from threats and you are charged with a crime but then acquitted under self-defense rules, the state will have to reimburse you for your legal fees, lost wages and other costs associated with your defense. This should discourage over-zealous prosecutors from going after people who were protecting themselves against aggressors.

Are Stand Your Ground Rules Reasonable?

Many people see the Zimmerman case as a poor example of stand your ground laws and have since called for repeal of these laws. But it’s important to remember that Zimmerman’s case was not a stand your ground case – his lawyers never argued that defense. After his not-guilty verdict, Zimmerman has been involved in other controversies, but again these have nothing to do with stand your ground.

It’s hard to say what any of us would do if confronted with a life or death situation where we or our loved ones were threatened in our homes, cars or in public. But currently, Washington state laws do protect the rights of those who act to defend themselves and this latest ruling underscores Washington’s commitment to this self-defense doctrine.