No Duty to Retreat in Pike County

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American common law differs from its English origins in many ways, but one of the most consequential departures is and acceptance that a person threatened with bodily harm has no duty to retreat. "Stand your ground" laws in many states absolve a person from a responsibility to flee from a perceived threat before responding with deadly force and a mythic interpretation of this concept has become enshrined in motion pictures for more than a century. In the standard cinematic (usually a Western movie or television episode) aftermath of a homicide, witnesses crowd around to insist that the dead man "drew first" and the killer is subsequently dismissed with a nod from the sheriff. However, the actual historical record of nineteenth century America refutes this fantasy of instant absolution for the survivor of a gun duel. Homicides have always been taken seriously by local justice systems, and in even some of the most remote jurisdictions documentation can be found showing at least a formal court hearing on any self-defense plea.




Wild West History Association Journal, Volume 9, Number 4 (December 2016), pp. 53-58.
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