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The controversy over Stand Your Ground laws is just beginning
A murder suspect in South Carolina claims protection under the law, after allegedly breaking into an apartment
 
Protesters in California call for a repeal of the controversial law.
Protesters in California call for a repeal of the controversial law. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Gregg Isaac is accused of breaking into the apartment of Tony Corbitt in 2005 and shooting him in front of his 8-year-old son.

His trial, which began last week, has raised some eyebrows thanks to his defense team's strategy: Claiming Isaac is protected by South Carolina's Stand Your Ground law.

Stand Your Ground laws, which expand the right to use force for self-defense, have come under intense scrutiny due to the recently concluded murder trial of George Zimmerman.

Isaac has admitted to shooting Corbitt in Corbitt's home in Columbia, S.C., saying that he and another man, Tavares World, kicked in the door and entered with pistols. Isaac claims that Corbitt looked like he was going to pull out a gun while in the middle of an argument, which caused Isaac to fear for his life and shoot Corbitt twice.

The fact that Isaac admitted to breaking into Corbitt's home makes his Stand Your Ground claim seem especially dubious.

"It borders on the preposterous for the defendant in this case to claim he was acting lawfully and had the right to kill Mr. Corbitt," Judge Clinton Newman said in court.

Newman initially denied the defense team's request to hold a hearing on the matter. Afterwards, however, defense attorney Mark Schnee filed a petition with the South Carolina Supreme Court, which agreed last week to decide whether to hold a full pre-trial hearing on the matter.

In the unlikely occurrence that all the chips fall Isaac's way, he would be immune from prosecution and the case would not go to trial.

While the defense team's strategy probably won't get Isaac off, it does give him a slight legal advantage that he wouldn't have had otherwise, argued the editorial board of the Florence Morning News:

It’s nothing more than a procedural win, but if a delay or a fleeting, desperate grasp at an acquittal is what the defending attorneys sought, then it is a win nonetheless. [Florence Morning News]

Much of the controversy in South Carolina centers around how Stand Your Ground claims are heard rather than the substance of the law itself.

"As you know, court time is at a premium. In essence, you’ll have to have a mini-trial before you go ahead with the full trial," Dan Johnson, South Carolina's equivalent of a district attorney, told The State. "It makes it more difficult to have a trial in a speedy fashion when you have to have mini-trials in factual scenarios that might be absurd, in my opinion.”

Rebecca Leber of ThinkProgress took a wider view of the case, claiming that it's another example of defense teams exploiting the often vague language in Stand Your Ground laws.

While Isaac’s case goes too far, other Stand Your Ground defendants have succeeded on dubious legal claims authorized by the statute’s broadly permissive language... One man avoided prosecution for shooting two men he suspected burglarized a neighbor’s home, another killed a mentally disabled man who was unarmed, and yet another was let off for chasing a burglar for more than a block. [ThinkProgress]

A date has yet to be set for the next hearing for Isaac, who is being charged with murder, attempted armed robbery, and first-degree burglary.

 
Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.

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