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Citing Its “Uses and Abuses,” Rival Task Forces Duel Over Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law

| May 1, 2012

Magriten, 'Le survivant' ('The Survivor'), 1950.

As a task force formed by Gov. Rick Scott to review the “stand your ground” law prepares for its first meeting today, a rival panel convened by Democratic state Sen. Chris Smith found that the law needs significant revision.

“We took an adult look at ‘stand your ground,’ and we had adult discussions – not political,” Smith said Monday. “And I think we’re giving good direction to the Legislature on what should be done.”

Some panelists called for an outright repeal of “stand your ground,” but Smith said there wasn’t enough support to make that recommendation.

The recommendations call for lawmakers to require a grand jury review of “stand your ground” cases and to let law enforcement officers detain those who claim the law as a defense while an investigation is conducted.

“That’s what we mean by ambiguity – and a little bit of the absurdity of this law,” Smith said. “If you’re standing there and someone’s dead, to have police have to wonder, ‘Can I detain this person?’ is a concern.”

Smith said he started his own task force on April 5 after tiring of waiting for Scott to act on the Feb. 26 shooting of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin and the delay in arresting acknowledged shooter George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer.

Since then, special prosecutor Angela Corey has charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder, and Scott has named a panel chaired by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who voted for the 2005 “stand your ground” law while serving in the Legislature.

Meanwhile Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, convened an 18-member panel of lawyers, judges and law professors, and on Monday released their report.

“There is ample and overwhelming documentation of the law’s use, and more importantly, its abuse,” the report concludes. “The Sanford shooting should not have been a cause for delay; to the contrary, it was a compelling call to action that something needed to be done about the law’s confusing and often misapplied provisions.”

Smith is also pushing for a special session of the Legislature to review and amend the law.

“I think it’s still a public safety concern,” he said.

Smith said he will give the recommendations to Scott, Carroll, the members of the governor’s task force and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.

Critics of the Scott panel say it’s top-heavy with supporters of the National Rifle Association, which spearheaded the effort to make Florida the first state in the nation to adopt the “stand your ground” legislation.

Last week state Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, asked Scott to change the composition of his task force by removing at least one of the legislators who backed the law. That could be House sponsor Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, or Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, who co-sponsored the law.

Smith, Bullard, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa and other black lawmakers say they have tried to become members of the Scott panel, to no avail.

“We have tapped a diverse and qualified group to carefully review our laws and our policies,” Scott said on April 19, announcing his selections. None of his appointees are lawmakers who favor gun control.

Smith said he’d requested the opportunity to give the recommendations directly to the panel Tuesday, but was told no public comment would be part of the inaugural meeting.

His panel’s recommendations are broken down into unanimous, consensus and minority findings.

These findings of the Smith task force were unanimous:

-Cases should be presented to a grand jury to allow for a cross section of society to determine what a reasonable person would do in that case.
-Educate the public and law enforcement.
-Create a system to track self-defense claims in Florida.
-Add language requiring an “imminent” danger provision throughout the statute.
-Change the “Defense of Others” wording in the law’s title to “Defense of Property.”
-Allow law enforcement to detain someone who uses the Stand Your Ground defense while they investigate.

Consensus findings included eliminating the presumption of reasonable fear and clarifying the role of provocation in the law’s application.

–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida

The First Meeting:

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8 Responses for “Citing Its “Uses and Abuses,” Rival Task Forces Duel Over Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law”

  1. Sherry Epley says:

    Ciao from Roma Italy! Wow! I can’t wait to read the comments on this story! Of course, I am not surprised that Governor Scott has loaded his panel with gun tottin’ NRA members. . . who else is going to see things his way? The sooner he’s out of office, the better!

  2. Linda H. says:

    The only provision that bothers me is changing the “defense of others” wording in the law’s title to “defense of property”. To me, defense of others is more important than defense of property. I can replace my property.

    These are all reasonable.

  3. Outsider says:

    If someone attacks you and you use deadly force, why should you be held while the police investigate? If you’ve protected yourself, your family, or someone else from serious injury or death you should not be punished.

  4. ric says:

    I think it’s a good law.. Just because a perp was shot does not warrent a change.. Zimmerman was the person trying protect the complex..

  5. JL says:

    I don’t think it’s the law that failed Trayvon Martin, the Sanford Police did. Just because a person invokes the “Stand your ground” law, doesn’t make it automatic. I believe that the case should have still been thoroughly investigated. It wasn’t. The police took this guy at his word because he had killed a black teen wearing a hoodie. In any case where a person kills another person, whether or not it is in self defense, the case should still be investigated.

  6. Outsider says:

    There is nothing in the law that prohibits the police from investigating anshooting, even if this law is invoked. The law simply states that the police may not arrest the shooter if the claim seems reasonable. If after a thorough investigation it becomes apparent the use of force was not justified, the police may arrest and charge the shooter. It also prohibits criminal and civil action against the shooter if the investigation confirms the lawful use of deadly force. So, much to the disappointment of the ignorant, Zimmerman’s bloody nose and head, along with a witness who saw Martin beating Zimmerman, the police believed Zimmerman’s claim of self defense was reasonable, and did not arrest him. In my opinion, the whole prosecution of Zimmerman is a dog and pony show to placate the masses, and he will ultimately be exonerated in accordance with the law.

  7. Agnese says:

    If Zimmerman would have listened to the instructions from the 911 officer, none of this would have happened.

  8. Howard Duley says:

    I don’t care what the law is changed to read. Im 73 and in poor health, my wife is 80 and her health isn’t much better. If someone enters into the confines of my home I’ll blast the crap out of them. If their in my yard I’ll call the police. The police don’t have the knowledge to figure where the next crime is going to be. They are always a day late and a dollar short. Better the intruder is dead than me or my wife.

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