We have previously discussed Stand-Your-Ground laws and common misconceptions that arose during the George Zimmerman trial. That controversy is back this week in Alabama after Judge James Roberts Jr. cited Alabama’s stand-your-ground law in dismissing a civil lawsuit by a former college student who was injured in a fight with a sorority sister. The lawsuit has drawn particular attention in the state because the sorority sister, Kristen Saban (left), is the daughter of University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban.
Notably, the plaintiff, Sarah Grimes did not pursue criminal chargers against Saban over the 2010 fight, but she did sue two years after the scuffle. She claims that the fight with Saban cost $16,000 in medical bills and therapy.
The two women were at Saban’s house after a night of drink in Tuscaloosa and were clearly not getting along. Things got bad when Saban was insulted by Grimes telling her to stop being “pathetic” about her relationship with a boyfriend. Saban went to her room and posted on Facebook that “No one likes Sarah, yay.” Pretty childish for a college student to be sure, but then Grimes saw it and began to pound on the bedroom door and demand that the post be taken down. Things then went from sorority to thuggery.
Here is what Sarah Saban admitted to and alleged in her answer to the complaint:
. . . the group sat discussing the night’s activities and Plaintiff Sarah Grimes told Kristen Saban to “… shut up.” Defendant also admits that Plaintiff Sarah Grimes said “… sick and tired of hearing you.” Defendant denies that Plaintiff said anything other than she (Sarah) was “sick and tired of hearing you.”
Without replying, Kristen got up and retreated to her bed room, at which time Plaintiff Sarah Grimes called Kristen “a psycho.” Again, Kristen gave no reply as she entered her room and locked the door.
While in her room and out of the presence of Plaintiff Sarah Grimes and while still sad and upset about Plaintiff’s insults, Kristen posted on her own Facebook page the non- threatening statement of “No one likes Sarah! Yayyyy”
Defendant admits only that portion of paragraph 26 of the Complaint which includes Plaintiff Sarah Grimes uttering the threat in regards to Kristen Saban, “…I will kill her.” Defendant denies the remainder of paragraph 26.
Having seen or been told of the statement (apparently assuming it applied to her and that anyone visiting Kristen’s Facebook page would automatically know that “Sarah” was Sarah Grimes) she screamed at Kristen through Kristen’s door “Take it off! Open the f—
ing door you crazy b—–, I am going to kill you, you crazy b—–.” The Plaintiff continued to scream, yell and curse at Kristen while banging on her door. Kristen did not yell back, but sat crying and upset.
Again, Sarah Grimes screamed at the top of her lungs “Open the f—-ing door, before I kill you.” Eventually Kristen opened the door, intending to show Plaintiff her Facebook page on her smart phone, which would prove the comment had been removed. When she did, Sarah continued to yell at Kristen and got within inches of her face. Once Sarah got in Kristen’s personal space, bumping against her body in an offensive manner, Kristen pushed Sarah away.
A fight then ensued and Grimes says that Saban slammed her head into the door and left her with a broken nose and concussion.
Saban accused Grimes of just seeking a windfall settlement and moved for summary judgment, claiming self-defense. That is usually a fact question for the jury but the court looked at Saban’s right to stand her ground when attacked. Roberts ruled that the facts were clear and that Grimes reacted unreasonably and initiated the confrontation. Notably, however, the confrontation was not a blow but Grimes’ stance and demeanor: “When [Saban] opened the door to an angry [Grimes] within inches of her face, it was reasonable for [Saban] to believe imminent use of unlawful physical force by [Grimes] was about to be used against her. [Saban] had a right to be in her home, had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand her ground.” He found the level of force to be reasonable and commensurate.
As many on this blog know, I have been a vocal critic (if not one of the most vocal critics) against Castle doctrines laws that are often related to SYG legislation. I have written extensively against the Castle Laws currently in place in a majority of states and the SYG laws that extend these laws outside of the home. My argument for years has been that these laws are not necessary and encourage people to use lethal force with often disastrous results.
The common law does not impose a duty to retreat. It preexisted the SYG law in most states. If it didn’t, hundreds of thousands of cases of self-defense would have had different results after people defended themselves rather than flee. Indeed, this is a point that I often made in opposing these laws: you already have the right to defend yourself and not to retreat. There are slight difference in the jury instruction among the states, including Florida, but the Zimmerman instructions reflected the general common law standard for self-defense and the justified use of force. If the President was referring to the no duty to retreat rule in his call for reform, he would have to change not the SYG laws but the common law in the majority of states. This has been a rule either through statute or common law for a long time. The change would require citizens to retreat or flee when attacked in most cases or lose the defense in the use of lethal force.
You have no duty of retreat in many states that do not have a formal SYG law. Many people who may not like the immunity provision (barring criminal prosecution) would likely support the common law rule that, once attacked, you do not have to flee in order to claim self-defense in the use of lethal force. Note that in cases of non-lethal force, there is no such rule even in retreat states and, under the common law, you must still show that your use of lethal force was commensurate with the threat.
The Alabama law gives a full defense for non-lethal force and a qualified immunity for the use of lethal force, as shown below.
Roberts said both Saban’s use of force in the incident and the degree of force she used were justified and reasonable. The use of a summary judgment motion on such a question could be controversial since it is loaded with factual questions like the level of threat posed by Grimes upon the opening of the door. There is no question that Grimes pursued in a sense by going to the room and pounding on the door. However, usually the question of what occurred after the opening of the door is a matter for witness testimony and a fact finder. Yet, I do not have the full record in the case and there may have been concessions or admissions that make the factual foundation more clear for the court.
Notably, Roberts teaches at the University of Alabama but that is not considered a recusal matter, even when the daughter of the coach of the Crimson Tide is in your courtroom.
Here is the Alabama law:
ALA CODE § 13A-3-23 : Alabama Code – Section 13A-3-23: USE OF FORCE IN DEFENSE OF A PERSON
(a) A person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person, and he or she may use a degree of force which he or she reasonably believes to be necessary for the purpose. A person may use deadly physical force, and is legally presumed to be justified in using deadly physical force in self-defense or the defense of another person pursuant to subdivision (4), if the person reasonably believes that another person is:
(1) Using or about to use unlawful deadly physical force.
(2) Using or about to use physical force against an occupant of a dwelling while committing or attempting to commit a burglary of such dwelling.
(3) Committing or about to commit a kidnapping in any degree, assault in the first or second degree, burglary in any degree, robbery in any degree, forcible rape, or forcible sodomy.
(4) In the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has unlawfully and forcefully entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or federally licensed nuclear power facility, or is in the process of sabotaging or attempting to sabotage a federally licensed nuclear power facility, or is attempting to remove, or has forcefully removed, a person against his or her will from any dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle when the person has a legal right to be there, and provided that the person using the deadly physical force knows or has reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act is occurring. The legal presumption that a person using deadly physical force is justified to do so pursuant to this subdivision does not apply if:
a. The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner or lessee, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person;
b. The person sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used;
c. The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity; or
d. The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer acting in the performance of his or her official duties.
(b) A person who is justified under subsection (a) in using physical force, including deadly physical force, and who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and is in any place where he or she has the right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground.
(c) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a), a person is not justified in using physical force if:
(1) With intent to cause physical injury or death to another person, he or she provoked the use of unlawful physical force by such other person.
(2) He or she was the initial aggressor, except that his or her use of physical force upon another person under the circumstances is justifiable if he or she withdraws from the encounter and effectively communicates to the other person his or her intent to do so, but the latter person nevertheless continues or threatens the use of unlawful physical force.
(3) The physical force involved was the product of a combat by agreement not specifically authorized by law.
(d) A person who uses force, including deadly physical force, as justified and permitted in this section is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the force was determined to be unlawful.
(e) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force described in subsection (a), but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force used was unlawful.
(Acts 1977, No. 607, p. 812, §610; Acts 1979, No. 79-599, p. 1060, §1; Act 2006-303, p. 638, §1.)
– See more at: http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/alcode/13A/3/2/13A-3-23#sthash.a3x4rOqT.dpuf