Fla. 'Stand Your Ground' Law Under Microscope in Wake of Trayvon Martin Shooting

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By Paul Stanley, Christian Post Reporter
March 26, 2012|3:23 pm

The shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin has created an outcry over the state's self-defense statute, commonly known as "Stand Your Ground." What is being debated is whether the law could be used as a viable defense in Martin's death.

Gov. Jeb Bush signed Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law after the State Legislature passed it in 2005. The part of the statute that may apply in cases such as Martin's reads:

"Title XLVI, Chapter 776.012 Use of force in defense of person. – A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other's imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or

"And 776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm -

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."

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It is not entirely clear since details of the shooting death remain sketchy, however, Bush is backing away from the law, saying that it should not be used as a defense in Martin's shooting death and calling the shooting a "tragedy."

"Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn't mean chase after somebody who's turned their back," said Bush at an event Friday in Arlington, Texas.

The gentleman who made the initial 911 call and reportedly shot Martin is George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old mixed race (white and Hispanic) male who has yet to be charged as the Stanford, Fla., Police department are still investigating the incident.

Outside of the 911 call where Zimmerman described Martin as looking "suspicious" but was instructed not to follow Martin and told where he was to meet police, few details of the incident exist. Many are speculating that Zimmerman did pursue Martin and that the young black man got the upper hand prior to Zimmerman shooting the 17-year-old. Since Zimmerman has not yet given his side of the story and Martin is deceased, investigators may never know what really happened.

But the Feb. 26 shooting has sparked a nationwide outcry led by civil rights activist Al Sharpton and others who are calling for Zimmerman's arrest, although through his attorney he has invoked the "Stand Your Ground" statute as his defense.

Zimmerman's attorney, Craig Sonner, also said Zimmerman suffered a broken nose and cut on the back of his head during the altercation with Martin.

"The stand-your-ground law is one portion of justifiable use of deadly force," said Angela Corey, the prosecutor appointed by Fla. Gov. Rick Scott to investigate case, told ABC News. "And what that means is that the state must go forward and be able to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt … So it makes the case in general more difficult than a normal case."

Florida's law is similar to the ones passed in several other states and are also known by other terms such as "Castle Doctrine," which also allows individuals to defend their home, life or the life of others if they feel they are in immediate danger.

After reviewing press reports and state records, The Tampa Bay Times uncovered 130 cases in the Sunshine State where Stand Your Ground was invoked. In more than 70 percent of those cases, some were killed. However, only 28 or the 130 cases went to trial, with only 19 resulting in a guilty verdict.

Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) is calling for the statute to be reexamined and says the problem is not with the law but rather how it's being applied.

"There was nothing in this statute ever intended to protect somebody who was pursuing or confronting other people," Baxley told ABC News.

Meanwhile, other state legislators who sponsor the bills are maintaining the laws are needed. "I understand it's a tragic case that happened in Florida. I wasn't there. The only two people who were there were the victim and the man who defended himself," Iowa Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley), who sponsored a "Stand Your Ground" bill that died last year in the Iowa Senate, told the Sioux City Journal.

"Nobody can tell you what happened besides those people. I think Iowans have a right to defend themselves where they have a right to be present. To require an Iowan to retreat when they feel threatened, I think, that's an asinine proposal," added Windschitl.

Legislators in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Hampshire passed similar bills last year and Alaska is currently considering a "Stand Your Ground" bill this year.

 

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