Louisiana's Stand Your Ground Law Will Be at the Center of the Joe McKnight Case


Joe McKnight was killed yesterday afternoon, shot in an intersection in Terrytown, Louisiana. Last night, the police released the man who shot McKnight, Ronald Gasser, without charging him. The investigation is still ongoing.

There is no factual dispute about who killed McKnight. Gasser remained on the scene and relinquished the gun to authorities, and acknowledged that he shot McKnight. Thus, the authorities must think there is a question as to whether the homicide was justified or not.

Louisiana is a “Stand Your Ground” state, and as Mike Florio noted, it is likely a major factor in why the shooter is currently free, and not charged.

The relevant statute is Revised Statute 14:20, entitled “Justifiable Homicide,” Subsection A provides that a homicide is justifiable if:

(1) committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and that the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger.

Subsection C, which contains the “Stand Your Ground” language, provides that “A person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is in a place where he or she has a right to be shall have no duty to retreat before using deadly force as provided for in this Section, and may stand his or her ground and meet force with force.”

The Nola.com story had the following from an unidentified witness:

A witness, who declined to give her name, said she was leaving a store in the area when she saw a man at the intersection yelling at another man, who was trying to apologize. The man who was yelling shot the other man more than once, she said. She said the shooter shot the man, stood over him and said “I told you don’t you f— with me.” Then he fired again, she said.

The police also said that McKnight was not armed. No details have emerged as to how the two men came together at that intersection, and what happened before the shooting.

Another potentially relevant section of the statute is in A(4)(a), which provides, in part, that homicide is justified:

When committed by a person lawfully inside … a motor vehicle as defined in R.S. 32:1(40) when the conflict began, against a person who is attempting to make an unlawful entry into the … motor vehicle … and the person committing the homicide reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the entry or to compel the intruder to leave the … motor vehicle. [emphasis ours]

That portion is dealing with the use of deadly force in defense of property, but it should be noted that it applies if the person who committed the homicide was lawfully inside a motor vehicle when the conflict began, and doesn’t just apply to people remaining in the vehicle.

Any of these defenses would be affirmative defenses for the shooter, who would carry the burden of proving it. There is a lot of gray, subjective area in what constitutes a reasonable belief when it comes to one believing they are in imminent danger, or the act is necessary to prevent entry into a motor vehicle.

Given the witness statement reported by nola.com, it is interesting that deference, so far, has been given to the shooter’s version, but the “Stand Your Ground” law, similar to the one at the root of the Trayvon Martin case, will likely return to prominence with Joe McKnight’s death.