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Post-Trayvon, Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law Won’t Be Repealed But May Be Revised

| March 29, 2012

Once upon a time in Florida.

While there’s no consensus on whether the state’s “stand your ground” self defense law may apply in the Trayvon Martin case, and not everyone agrees on whether it’s bad or good law, a consensus is emerging that it may not be as clear as it could be as to what it allows and doesn’t.

As the 2005 law has come under intense scrutiny in the wake of the Sanford shooting of the unarmed 17-year-old Martin, veteran lawmakers haven’t been able to agree even on what the measure allows, which, the bill’s sponsor acknowledges may point to a need for clarification.

“There’s nothing in the statute that provides for any kind of aggressive action, in terms of pursuit and confront,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the measure in 2005. “So I think that’s been some misapplication of this statute. If anything could come out of this very tragic circumstance, it could be some clarification of when this applies and how.

It’s always hard to predict what lawmakers might do on a particular issue, but several members of the Legislature on both sides of the law – supporters and opponents – did say this week that it likely would come in for some clarification. And while there have been calls for repeal, particularly from a few black lawmakers, most said they thought some sort of change was more likely.

“There’s a critical and urgent need to look at the law, and at least clarify it, or explain it,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, one of several African-American legislators who have called for revisiting the statute either in a special session, or when lawmakers convene.

The incoming Democratic leader in the House, Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, and also African-American, acknowledged that a full repeal of the law isn’t likely, but also referred to the general sense that prosecutors, police and even judges may not know exactly where the lines are in terms of self defense in a public setting.

“The concern is that the application has not been fully explained, there’s some vagueness about some of the terms,” said Thurston. “We just need to make sure it’s being applied appropriately.”

Supporters of the law, which allows the use of defensive lethal force in public without a duty to retreat first, say it’s not clear yet whether it would apply in the shooting death of Martin last month in Sanford. George Zimmerman, a community resident who had volunteered for the neighborhood crime watch, shot Martin in what he told police was self defense. The case has gained national attention but has also drawn new attention to the stand your ground law, which was first passed in Florida, but is now law in several other states. Zimmerman’s lawyer, Craig Sonner, said in a nationally televised interview, that the stand your ground defense probably would come into the case. Zimmerman hasn’t been arrested or charged with anything.

The measure largely expanded common law doctrine about what people may do to defend themselves when attacked in their home or car – they have long been able to stand their ground and fight force with force in those places. Under the 2005 law, that also goes for people who feel threatened out in public, in a street, a business, or at a public event, for example.

Meanwhile, the incoming Senate Democratic leader, Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, again urged Gov. Rick Scott to let lawmakers look at the issue sooner rather than later, pleading for the governor to call a special session. Smith had asked earlier this week for a special session on the stand your ground law, but Scott said he wants to wait until a law enforcement investigation is complete and then have a task force meet make recommendations on what, if anything, to do about the state’s self defense law.

“A preventable death is exactly what you’re risking now,” Smith responded in a second letter on Wednesday. “…We have more than enough evidence already on hand of the deadly confrontations and self defense claims to begin a closer examination of the law’s track record and whether changes are needed to stop its abuse. There is absolutely no reason the public should accept any delay when seven years of history already exist.”

Rep. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat, said earlier this week that many who don’t think the law works very well might be OK with a new measure that seeks to clarify how it should work – but said that at a minimum that had to happen.

“If not, I can definitely look to see multiple offerings of repealing the law,” said Bullard.

Lawmakers aren’t currently scheduled to return until next year and won’t file new legislation until after the November election.

–David Royce, News Service of Florida

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18 Responses for “Post-Trayvon, Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law Won’t Be Repealed But May Be Revised”

  1. JL says:

    It surely wasn’t meant for people to hunt someone down and kill them. This man watched this kid, followed him, and went after him. Had he just went home, everyone’s life would go on as usual. It wasn’t the law that killed Trayvon, it was Zimmerman.

  2. Yellowstone says:

    Quote from above, “Lawmakers aren’t currently scheduled to return until next year and won’t file new legislation until after the November election.”

    Yea, what the heck – we’re only talking about more human lives lost! How many more will it take?

    It seems way beyond rational thought this paid collection of Florida’s finest attorneys sit in Tallahassee and dream up these laws without considering every single nuance. Every When?, Where?, How? and in this case Who?

    I can’t run a simple small business without thinking fives years out – and considering these issues.

    This entire controversy stands in the way of “equal justice for all”. Yet another blemish on this great country.

    Can anyone out there imagine what friends of ours in foreign countries are now thinking . . . ?

    Florida has become the lawless and reckless ‘Wild West’. “Shot first, and ask questions later!”

    God help us – Please!

  3. farmer says:

    JL you have issued the verdict along with with the black civil leaders and the bounty placed by the black Panthers. Can’t we all wait and see what is said by other authorities; not that a fair trial can be had.

  4. Kip Durocher says:

    “Guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people.”

    Socrates

  5. B. Claire says:

    George Zimmerman on Police Surveillance

    Tapes show “neighborhood watchman” on night of Trayvon Martin killing.

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/video/george-zimmerman-police-surveillance-16024475

    Are there any supportors speaking on behalf of this murderer that are NOT Lying?

  6. JL says:

    Farmer – why is it you classify my responses with “along with black leaders”. Are you not outraged by what happened? I am white, my family lives in Sanford, Florida. I am outraged. I heard the 911 tapes. Am I saying Zimmerman is guilty of First Degree murder? No, I’m not the jury. But I do believe he should be arrested and allowed a trial before a jury of his peers. He did shoot and kill and teenager. He did follow him, even after being told not to. The boy isn’t guity of anything other than being a typical teen. How many times my son has worn hoodies, and was eating Skittles. The difference? My son is white and probably wouldn’t have had to worry about someone convicting him of some crime based on what he looked like and what he was wearing. You say I’m convicting Zimmerman? Zimmerman was judge and jury for Trayvon. Zimmerman needs to be arrested and made to answer to what he did. If he is innocent, let him prove it in a court of law. His word shouldn’t be taken as fact just because it was a black teen that he killed. I thought this was America 2012. Not 1812.

    • Anonymous says:

      Jl-

      In our criminal justice system everyone is innocent until proven guilty – ALWAYS!

      The only exception I know the practice of military law wherein you can be assumed guilty until proven innocent.

  7. farmer says:

    I did not say you were a black leader. Let the thing work out in court; there some black persons in Sanford and the nearest witness that is telling the truth or why would they perjure themselves over a bad incident

  8. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    “Shoot first and ask questions later” is what many have accused Zimmerman of doing, and what many accuse the stand your ground law of encouraging. Yet that is exactly what these accusers who are so certain of the facts (even though they weren’t there) are doing, let’s arrest Zimmerman, let’s repeal the law, then we can ask the questions later, like a)is stand your ground even applicable here? b) why was Zimmermans nose broken, the back of his head gashed, and his back wet and covered in grass? c)why is there an eye witness who claims it was Zimmerman that was screaming for help?

  9. Hugh says:

    Since everyone else is sharing their opinion, so will I. No matter what you “FEEL” the law will be the one who determines if a crime was committed. As a youth, I was stabbed in an major city by a gang of “young thugs”. Luckily there where some college kids nearby that came to my rescue or I would be dead. There was NO mercy. Just angry animalistic behavior. I was 10 years old. They wanted my baseball glove.
    I personally I’m glad we have the ” Stand your Ground ” law.

    • umm says:

      Not sure how your situation would even apply to this one. Did the college kids come to your defense by shooting all the “young thugs” dead? Would you, as a 10 year old, be packing a gun to defend yourself if the stand your ground law existed back then?

      • Hugh says:

        Actually, they beat the heck out of 4 of them so bad they had to go to hospital. This took place in a city that did not have ” Stand your Ground” law. Not sure what you mean by your comment but if you ever get stabbed or beat up, I sure hope you have someone who will come to your aid. You believe what you want, I know what society has become. And I will be protecting my family and myself by “ANY” means I can.

  10. jespo says:

    Zimmerman appears to have violated the ‘stand your ground’ portion of the law’s spirit by putting himself in harm’s way first, that’s not what the law had in mind. As far as how the young man acted once confronted, we’ll never really know what happened despite what activists, parents, or others say…they simply weren’t there. Neighborhood watch means just that….WATCH, do not confront because it just might escalate, like it did here.

    You don’t get rid of a good law because someone violates it, you punish the hell out of the violator. If they defended themselves then…oh well. I’ll let the courts figure this one out, just leave the law alone.

  11. JL says:

    Innocent until proven guilty. That’s correct, that is what our laws are based on. However, Zimmerman did not give that chance to Trayvon, did he. He shot first, but couldn’t ask questions later, because he shot Trayvon dead. We don’t get to ask Trayvon his side. I do not care what the facts are surrounding this case. I want Zimmerman arrested, and made to tell his story in a court of law. A jury should be convened to determine if he’s innocent or guilty. But so far, Zimmerman has not had to answer to this killing. It’s sad. If this was a black man who shot and killed a white kid, and all other details were the same, the man would be behind bars right now. No questions asked. That’s not right. If Zimmerman is innocent, let’s see the facts in a court of law. But right now, it appears Zimmerman can shoot a black teen solely because houses have been broken into in his neighborhood. Is this what you people want? I surely don’t. Even if Trayvon was savegly beating Zimmerman (which I doubt, just look at the size comparison), Zimmerman still needs to show proof.

  12. Jim J says:

    You don’t get rid of a good law because someone MIGHT have violatesd it, let the courts figure this one out, I agree just leave the law alone.

  13. Outsider says:

    You are all wrong, according to the law. Even if Zimmerman provoked Trayvon, and Trayvon attacked Zimmerman, then Zimmerman clearly made it evident he desired to retreat, he could still use the force necessary to stop Trayvon from pounding on him. Zimmerman’s screaming for help would clearly indicate a desire for the attack to stop. Trayvon’s continued attack would justify the use of deadly force if Zimmerman clearly indicated a desire to flee and Trayvon didn’t let him. I don’t believe that’s quite what happened, but even if it did, Florida Statute 776.041 allows the use of force necessary to stop a forcible felony, even if that person was originally the aggressor. Rightly or wrongly, that’s what the law states. According to the law, Zimmerman had the right to defend himself and SHOULD be exonerated if the law prevails over emotions. Again, not my opinion but the law.

  14. The way it is says:

    Martin’s parents should have known where their son was.
    Martin should not have been roaming the streets while suspended from school.
    Martin shouldn’t have been walking the neighborhood in the dark or rain.
    It’s been stated Martin went to the store to get Skittles for his brother, yet his brother was older than he was and moone reported Martin missing the night of the shooting, and it wasn’t until the following morning when authorities knocked on their door was it realized Martin was missing: meanwhile his body was 40 miles away at the Morgue. If someone went to the store for me I would expect them to return or I would report them missing and go look for them. So now the question is was Martin doing what his family reported, or was he up to no good?
    Everyone is stating Zimmerman should be arrested, yet the facts have not all been released. The law was put in place to allow us to protect ourselves, and it should remain. Too many thugs were taking advantage of others when others couldn’t protect themselves
    It is despictable the press has tried to fuel this matter and repeatedly shown a old picture of Martin when he was a kid instead of the recent picture. This allowed the public to feel sympathy for Martin and falsely gain support to have Zimmerman arrested. At this point Zimmerman could never get a fair trial in the US if he was to be arrested and tried. We must trust authorities and have zero tolerance to intimidation. Martin was nearly an adult, and should not be portrayed as a 10-12 year old by the media. Zimmerman was not the heavy weight that the media has repeatedly shown him as; he’s a much older and thinner male. This is not a hate crime or a racial crime-this is an unfortunate circumstance. We all know in this day and time we shouldn’t put our selves in situations to be at risk as Martin did. If Martin was a white male nothing would have ever been known about this case, and the law would not be in question.

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