- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The South Carolina Supreme Court is asking legislators to help them better define the state’s “stand-your-ground” self-defense law, but a group of senators said Thursday that immediately expanding the law isn’t the right way to do it.

A Senate subcommittee decided not to vote on a bill Thursday that would shift the burden to prosecutors to prove that those who have killed someone were not in fear for their lives when claiming self-defense and allow an instant appeal that could delay trials for years if a judge rules against a defendant. The bill passed the House 106-0 in February.

“This is a bad idea,” said Sen. Greg Hembree, a Republican who was a prosecutor in Horry County.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey pointed out the Supreme Court ruling from Wednesday, which upheld a judge’s determination that a Charleston County woman could claim self-defense in the stabbing of her boyfriend while she was moving her stuff out of the home she shared.

The boyfriend had pulled Whitlee Jones’ hair and dragged her in November 2012 before things cooled off enough for her to gather her belongings and grab a knife in case he attacked her again. As Jones took her stuff to her car, Eric Lee grabbed her, shook her and told her their relationship was over and it was her fault. She stabbed him once and waited for police. He died later at the hospital, according to the Supreme Court ruling .

In its 17-page ruling, the Supreme Court cited the sometimes contradictory or incomplete portions of the stand-your-ground law, and asked legislators to clarify under what circumstances someone can claim self-defense if they kill a stranger or someone else in their home. They also asked them to determine if all defendants deserve a hearing on a stand-your-ground defense before a trial can start.

With only seven days left in the General Assembly’s session, Massey said Thursday that it was likely too late to find a good solution.

“If you rush it, you might not fix it. You might make it worse,” the Edgefield Republican said.

No one spoke in favor of expanding the stand-your-ground law at Thursday’s hearing. But three women belonging to groups fighting gun violence said the bill would make South Carolina the easiest state in the county in which to claim self-defense.

A culture of “shoot first, ask questions later,” would be created, said Lucy McBath, whose son Jordan Davis was killed in Florida by a man angered by his loud music. The man unsuccessfully tried a stand-your-ground defense.

Currently in South Carolina, defendants have to show their lives were in danger when they killed someone if they want to argue self-defense. The bill would require prosecutors to prove there was no threat.

Since the House passed the bill in February, prosecutors across the state have come out against it, saying it would delay murder trials by years as most defendants would claim self-defense and appeal rulings that go against them, Hembree said.


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/jeffrey-collins

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