According to South Carolina prosecutors, the state’s Stand Your Ground law, which allows people to use force to defend themselves when faced with “great bodily injury,” is an unfit defense for domestic violence victims who live with their attackers. One prosecutor even claimed that using the law to defend survivors of intimate partner violence is unconstitutional.
State prosecutors Scarlett Wilson and Culver Kidd are appealing a decision by a South Carolina judge earlier this month that applied the law to a case surrounding a domestic violence victim that stabbed her live-in boyfriend in 2012. Neighbors called the police after hearing Whitlee Jones screaming for help. In a 911 call, a neighbor is heard saying, “(He’s) pulling the lady by her hair…Can y’all please get somebody out here real quick?” According to court documents, Jones called friends for help, but she also called the police. She never talked to a dispatcher, but she can be heard struggling with Eric Lee over the phone as she cried, “Get off me” before the line went dead.
Jones left her apartment not knowing police were on the way. In an incident report filed the night of the attack, Lee told the responding officer that his girlfriend smashed his phone, but there had been no assault. The officer left the scene, and when Jones returned with friends, her attorney Mary Ford wrote, she “was not in a position to get away without acting.” Jones went to the apartment to pack up her belongings, and when she attempted to leave, Lee blocked her exit. Jones stabbed Lee once. Later, he was pronounced dead.
Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson ruled earlier this month that Jones could not be tried for Lee’s death because of the state’s Stand Your Ground. Now, prosecutors are arguing that the law should not apply because it was not meant to deal with “personal relationships.” In other words, the law should not be used by domestic violence victims protecting themselves from serious injury or death.
Concerns over the invocation of Stand Your Ground on behalf of intimate partner violence victims adds another splinter to just how partially such laws are applied. Attorneys for mother and domestic violence survivor Marissa Alexander attempted to use a similar Florida law to defend her firing of a warning shot in the presence of her well-documented abuser, but state prosecutor Angela Corey is seeking a 60-year sentence on the basis that Alexander endangered the lives of her husband and his two children by doing so, even though nobody was harmed. In 2013, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law also came under fire by activists in the wake of the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, in which his killer was acquitted of all charges under the law. In tandem, the two cases illuminate as deadly double-standard for women who act in self-defense against intimate partners who inflict abuse upon them.
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 3/4/14; The Post and Courier 10/12/14; Charleston City Paper 3/31/12