[Trigger warning for domestic violence]
In Florida, Stand Your Ground was used as the foundation of George Zimmerman’s defense after he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. In South Carolina, it was used to defend a man who walked out of the house with a gun to confront “women thugs” who had threatened his daughter; he ended up shooting a teenage boy in his car instead. Also in Florida, Marissa Alexander has repeatedly been denied the chance to use the Stand Your Ground defense against charges after she fired a warning shot above the head of her abusive husband.
Shannon Anthony, the South Carolina man who killed Darrell Niles without any lasting consequences for anyone but the Niles family, faced no threat from Niles, but the court ruled that that wasn’t actually a big deal.
Despite the evidence that Scott had no proof that the young man was an “imminent threat,” Scott’s attorney — who, oddly enough, is state Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-SC) — argued that if Scott hadn’t shot Niles, he would have had to go back to his home and “hope that the cavalry (police) are going to come.”
“All that matters is that Mr. Scott felt his life was in jeopardy,” Rutherford said.
Scott had a sign in his window that said, “Fight Crime – Shoot First.”
Domestic violence victims, no.
This month, Charleston prosecutors moved to further endanger the Marissa Alexanders of South Carolina by saying that Stand Your Ground shouldn’t apply to victims of domestic violence who confront their abusers. Most recently, the argument was raised in the case of Whitlee Jones, who returned to her house one night in 2012 to pack up her things after escaping an attack by her boyfriend. Jones armed herself with a knife for her own protection and was forced to use it when, she says, her boyfriend attacked her again as she left the house. She stabbed him, and he died.
By prosecutor Culver Kidd’s reasoning, Jones shouldn’t have the benefit of Stand Your Ground immunity because her risk didn’t qualify as “external.”
“(The Legislature’s) intent … was to provide law-abiding citizens greater protections from external threats in the form of intruders and attackers,” prosecutor Culver Kidd told the Post and Courier. “We believe that appliny ghte statute so that its reach into our homes and personal relationships is inconsistent with (its) wording and intent.”
On October 3, a judge disagreed with Kidd, granting Jones immunity from charges under Stand Your Ground. Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson said it would be a “nonsensical result” that a victim of domestic assault would be allowed to defend herself against an attacker outside the home but not from an identical one inside the home. Kidd is appealing the case.
The Post and Courier has revealed that women are dying from domestic abuse at a rate of one every 12 days in South Carolina. And the most dangerous time for domestic violence victims is when they’re trying to leave — as Jones was when she was forced to defend herself against her boyfriend’s attack.
In April, a South Carolina state senate subcommittee voted to expand Stand Your Ground protection to fetuses — specifically, against use of deadly force to protect a fetus. The law would protect pregnant women who use deadly force against physical attacks that would harm their fetus, even if the attack wouldn’t endanger the life of the mother. It responds to the needs of women who are at a particularly great risk for domestic violence during pregnancy.
It could also serve as a stepping stone in the direction of fetal personhood and/or fetal homicide legislation. While the South Carolina law applies only to pregnant women — and duplicates existing Stand Your Ground protections that women already have for self-defense and defense of others — it establishes an official definition of “pregnancy” and “unborn child” as beginning at conception, a crucial step in establishing fetal personhood. Fetal homicide legislation in other states has been used not to protect but to persecute women who lose pregnancies. Of the 36 states that currently have fetal homicide legislation, only 24 specifically exempt abortion from the laws, and none specify that a woman’s behavior during her pregnancy — be it drinking alcohol or eating sushi — can’t lead to fetal homicide charges. In Indiana in 2011, Bei Bei Shuai was charged with murder and attempted feticide after she attempted suicide with rat poison; she survived, but her fetus was delivered prematurely and died shortly thereafter. Shuai was held in prison for 435 days before ultimately pleading guilty to criminal recklessness and being released, which must have had a great impact on the mental health of a woman who was despondent enough to attempt suicide in the first place.
The Pregnant Women’s Protection Act was discussed at the same time as two fetal personhood acts — extending constitutional rights to embryos and fetuses — that did not come to a vote before the subcommittee adjourned. While the three laws weren’t approved by the end of the legislative session, South Carolina has introduced personhood legislation every term for the past 16 years, so all three bills are almost certain to make a reappearance. And by their logic, Whitlee Jones would have been fine by Culver Kidd if she’d only been pregnant when she was forced to kill her boyfriend in self-defense.
So there we have it. South Carolina: Still voting on domestic violence victim personhood.