Sec. 7-1. Use of force in defense of person.
(a) A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or another against such other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, he is justified in the use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another, or the commission of a forcible felony.
That’s textbook, straightforward self-defense. If someone’s doing something to you that you reasonably believe is apt to cause great bodily harm, you’re legally entitled to kill them to protect yourself. A “Stand Your Ground” law of the sort Florida has would add an extra wrinkle to that: You’re not obliged to try to run before defending yourself. If a guy pulls a sword and rushes at Indiana Jones, Indy’s got to make his best effort to escape if the fight’s happening in a “duty to retreat” jurisdiction. In a “Stand Your Ground” jurisdiction, there’s no need. He’s perfectly legally entitled to pull his pistol and take him down, irrespective of whether there’s an escape opportunity. That’s the difference. I don’t see anything about SYG in the statute here.
Here’s what the bill co-sponsored by Obama added to the above:
(b) In no case shall any act involving the use of force justified under this Section give rise to any claim or liability brought by or on behalf of any person acting within the definition of “aggressor” set forth in Section 7-4 of this Article, or the estate, spouse, or other family member of such a person, against the person or estate of the person using such justified force, unless the use of force involves willful or wanton misconduct.
In other words, unless the defendant was engaged in “misconduct” when he used self-defense, he can’t even be sued for wrongful death by the family of the person he killed if that person was the “aggressor.” Self-defense is thus a shield to both criminal and civil liability. A lot of Zimmerman critics would be surprised, I’ll bet, to find that The One voted for a law like that in Illinois. But who’s an “aggressor” under the statute? Quote:
The justification described in the preceding Sections of this Article is not available to a person who:
(a) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
(b) Initially provokes the use of force against himself, with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict bodily harm upon the assailant; or
(c) Otherwise initially provokes the use of force against himself, unless:
(1) Such force is so great that he reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, and that he has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
(2) In good faith, he withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.
Two questions. One: Would Trayvon Martin have qualified as an “aggressor” under this law if the shooting had happened in Illinois? It would depend, it seems, on whether the beating he gave Zimmerman rose to the level of a forcible felony. If so, then the Martin family’s wrongful death suit would be barred — thanks to the bill Obama co-sponsored. Two: Would Zimmerman have qualified as an “aggressor” under subsection (c) of this law? Note that there is a duty to retreat specified here, which makes the claim that O’s bill had something to do with “Stand Your Ground” even more confounding. I think Zimmerman would end up off the hook in Illinois too, even if the jury concluded that he had provoked Martin to use force against him, because the beating Martin gave him exposed him to a risk of great bodily harm and he really had no opportunity to retreat according to his own version of what happened. Martin hit him, he went down, Martin jumped on top of him, and then hit him some more. No retreat possible. Unless I’m missing something, O’s civil-liability shield would have applied to Zimmerman. And that’s the real story here — not that O’s a hypocrite on “Stand Your Ground” per se, but that, as Pollak says, adding extra legal immunity to self-defense in Illinois is an inducement to the public to use it. That’s very different from what his supporters want in a legal regime right now.