Stand Your Ground law: Florida review panel to draw wide scrutiny
Florida's review of its controversial Stand Your Ground law began Tuesday. Spurred by the Trayvon Martin shooting, it is the first comprehensive look at the effect of such laws, which 24 other states have copied.
Led by Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, a black Republican who is a life-time member of both the NAACP and the NRA, a 19-member panel assembled by Gov. Rick Scott (R) after the Trayvon Martin shooting sat down for the first time Tuesday to examine the future of the state's landmark self-defense law.Skip to next paragraph
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Enacted in 2005, the Stand Your Ground law, which expanded the “no duty to retreat” doctrine to public areas, became a touchstone for those who sought to extend gun rights and self-defense in US society, and the Trayvon Martin case has highlighted how those trends intersect with perceptions of young black men. Critics say the law has become a license for hate-motivated criminals to kill, while proponents credit it with saving lives and reducing the murder rate.
The law has been germane to the Trayvon Martin case, where a neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman said he acted in self defense when shooting 17-year-old Trayvon. Local police, citing Florida's Stand Your Ground law, didn’t charge the part-white, part-Hispanic Mr. Zimmerman for shooting the unarmed black youth. The case inflamed racial tensions, and prosecutors, who now say Zimmerman “profiled” Trayvon, charged him with second-degree murder on April 20.
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It’s not clear if Zimmerman’s lawyers will claim a Stand Your Ground defense. Some experts have said it may not apply, because Zimmerman fired his gun after ending up on his back, meaning that he was not in a position to invoke the law. Other legal experts have suggested that the Stand Your Ground law should have applied to Trayvon, if anyone, because he appears to have stood his ground against an armed stranger confronting him on a dark street.
The governor's Task Force on Citizens Safety and Protection is charged with recommending whether changes need to be made to the law and, if so, what exactly those changes should be. It’s a national issue because 24 states have adopted their own Stand Your Ground laws since 2005, and this review is the first serious examination of the law.
Some legal experts say Stand Your Ground laws have dramatically shifted the burden of personal responsibility from the state to citizens.
“This is politically very dicey,” says Lance Stell, a philosophy of law professor at Davidson College, in Davidson, N.C. “It’s inflamed people who are very sensitive that there not be a racial dimension to violence and that it not be seen to authorize people to just shoot each other because of … hatred.” In that light, "the incentives are for [the panel] to say something and for it to look substantive; otherwise, they’ll face allegations that this is a whitewash.”
A separate panel, created by a state lawmaker before Governor Scott moved to assemble a review panel, made its recommendations Monday. It suggested several changes to the law, including letting grand juries, not prosecutors, decide whether the law should apply, clarifying the language of the law, and proposing a system to track Stand Your Ground defenses.