Florida's so-called "stand your ground" law is coming under attack following the deadly shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a neighborhood watch captain. Twenty-one states, including South Dakota, have laws that allows people to use deadly force in certain situations.
South Dakota's "stand your ground" law factored into a deadly shooting at a mobile home park two years ago. 24-year-old Anthony Hennings threatened a man and woman and brought a 38-caliber gun into the couple's home. The homeowner was able to take the gun away from Hennings before shooting him at close range. Investigators determined the shooting was justified.
"It wasn't even a defense that somebody had to use in the court system. It's something we looked at as the status of the law in South Dakota and decided not to make a charging decision in that case," Minnehaha County State's Attorney Aaron McGowan said.
Under South Dakota law, people whose lives are threatened inside their homes are allowed to use deadly force.
"Absolutely, there are cases where you're justified in your home protecting yourself and your family. There are cases when it's not an appropriate response as well, and that's why we look at all those cases on a case-by-case basis," McGowan said.
Critics see Florida's "stand your ground" law as an invitation to vigilante justice in the aftermath of last month's shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The man who shot Martin claimed self-defense and has not been arrested.
"These different statutes in different states are open to different interpretations and could be abused in a lot of cases. Fortunately, here in South Dakota, we don't see an abuse of those statutes," McGowan said.
South Dakota's justifiable homicide law has been in the books for more than 70 years, allowing families legal grounds to protect themselves in case of a home invasion.
An effort to include protecting the unborn as a condition in South Dakota's justifiable homicide law was defeated last year in the legislature. Lawmakers thought the amendment might encourage people to kill abortion doctors.