Smith: Battered Women Not Protected by Stand Your Ground

By: Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida
By: Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida


Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith ratcheted up criticism of Florida's "stand your ground" law Friday, pointing to a loophole that could endanger some women, rather than protect them.

Smith's remarks came in response to a recent case in which a Jacksonville woman was sentenced in a domestic assault case.

Smith said the law – which allows people to shoot back when threatened without a duty to retreat – could actually end up making domestic violence victims more vulnerable.

Smith, an attorney, said the "stand your ground" law affords domestic violence victims fewer rights than they had before it was passed in 2005 – unless they have an injunction for protection.

"An invited guest is considered a 'resident' under the law," he wrote in a recent analysis. "This means that as soon as a woman invites her ex-husband to pick up their children at her home, she is powerless to defend herself, even if she holds sole title to the property. Given that most attacks happen at home, by relatives or individuals known to the victim, this loophole in the law is unconscionable."

While the Trayvon Martin killing that has brought the stand your ground self defense law into new focus in Florida involved two young men, Martin and shooter George Zimmerman, some of the focus on the need for a lenient self defense law has begun to focus on the needs of women.

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz and his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, both Republicans, made that claim in a recent editorial headlined: "Calls to repeal Stand Your Ground are anti-woman.:

"Consider an elderly woman in a dimly lit parking lot or a college girl walking to her dorm at night," they wrote in the May 2 Northwest Florida Daily News in Fort Walton Beach. "If either was attacked, her duty was to turn her back and try to flee, probably be overcome and raped or killed. Prior to Stand Your Ground, that victim didn’t have the choice to defend herself, to meet force with force."

Both Gaetz senior, R-Niceville, and Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala and House sponsor of the measure, dismissed concerns by Smith that for other women, the law makes things worse.

"Sen. Smith's been working too hard," said Baxley. "He needs to let the Citizen Safety and Protection Task Force, which has a lot of smart people on it, complete their work before he starts proposing changes to statute."

The Citizen Safety and Protection Task Force was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to review the "stand your ground" law following Martin's death Feb. 26 in Sanford in a case that has drawn international attention.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, entered a not-guilty plea after remaining free for five weeks – until the case had become a national controversy.

Now, after an organizational meeting earlier this month, the Scott task force is slated to hold its first public hearing in Sanford on June 12. Baxley is a member of the panel, which has been criticized for including him and two other lawmakers who voted for the "stand your ground" law – plus a fourth, Jason Brodeur, who was elected in 2010 and sponsored last year's law banning doctors from asking patients about guns in their homes.

The panel's chair, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, also voted for "stand your ground" while a House member. There are no known gun-control advocates on the panel.

Smith did not wait for Scott to name his panelists before creating a separate, South Florida-based task force that recommended changes to "stand your ground" last month. These included grand jury involvement, public education, and a self-defense claims tracking system.

On Friday, Smith also said a domestic violence exemption should be part of the overhaul.

He said he was "very surprised" to discover the domestic violence provision last week after 31-year-old Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville was sentenced in an assault case for firing a shot at her husband during a dispute in their home when she said she was under attack.

Using a "stand your ground" defense, Alexander rejected a plea bargain, lost her case and received a 20-year sentence under a mandatory minimum law for gun crimes.

"I immediately thought how Gaetz and others are talking about poor, helpless women defending themselves," said Smith. "More women are attacked in their homes than in the Publix parking lot."

The Gaetzes wrote that "[i]mposing a duty-to-flee (puts) the safety of the rapist above a woman’s own life. In fact, until Stand Your Ground was passed, criminals were suing victims because victims, in protecting themselves, were allegedly using excessive force against the criminals."

Gaetz senior called Smith a good friend and a good lawyer.

"If he believes that there's a way that we can strengthen Second Amendment protections for battered women, I'm all ears, and I can't wait for him to introduce the legislation," Gaetz said.

The discussion comes as Republicans and Democrats are locked in a national debate about which party better supports women.

In the case of Marissa Alexander, Jacksonville Congresswoman Corrine Brown, a Democrat, called on the U.S. Department of Justice to study whether "stand your ground" is applied fairly.

Meanwhile, the Gaetzes also saw a role for stand your ground in the national debate.

"Riding the extreme rhetoric of Al Sharpton and encouraged by the 'concerns' of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, anti-gun groups have already declared ['stand your ground'] guilty of murder and sentenced it for repeal by the Florida Legislature," wrote the Gaetzes in their op-ed.

Baxley said other laws might be more applicable to domestic violence cases than "stand your ground."

"I think what we're figuring out is – case by case – sometimes it applies and sometimes it doesn't.

"I am going to continue to be very cautious about doing anything to ["stand your ground"] that would diminish law-abiding citizens from defending themselves," he said.

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  • by Kevin aka Reality Location: Monticello on May 21, 2012 at 01:59 PM
    Always some "Criminal Coddler" that gets in the way. Until THEY become a victim. What needs to be , but will sadly never happen ... is an UNCOMPLICATED , Plain Language Law. IF , No Matter where you are , permit or not , you are attacked , by Gun , Knife or Horse whip , doesnt matter , then you have the Right to pull out the Iron and go to work. Old West Justice. As it should also apply to a "Passer by." If I am out for a stroll , and witness a woman being beaten , or the like , and I intervine...good. An Armed and Free Society , which can defend itself is a Polite , and Safe one.
  • by Tallynole Location: Tallahassee, FL on May 21, 2012 at 04:16 AM
    Ummm.. It is illegal to carry a weapon on a college campus... Just thought I would point out that this law doesn't protect a woman walking back to her dorm room...
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 21, 2012 at 07:02 AM in reply to Tallynole
      The SYG law does protect a woman anywhere on campus. The law plainly states that it applies to ..."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." A women, or man, can still meet force with force, on campus or off. They just can't use a firearm to do it.The problem is not with SYG, but with the fact that the Fla. legislature bowed to political pressure in Mar 2011 and voted down a bill that would have allowed licensed CCW permit holders, be they male or female, to carry concealed weapons while on a college campus. You can thank the very people like Sen. Smith, who are now whining about the poor women are unprotected by SYG. It was he and those of his political ilk who screamed the loudest and got the bill defeated.
  • by Sandy on May 20, 2012 at 01:50 PM
    I was told by LE that my 6'4" husband when he was trying to kill me, if I could have gotten to my gun, I would have been put in prison had I killed him because I was using unequal force. I'm 5'3". 120 pounds. He weighed 240 pounds. Where's the "unequal force?"
    • reply
      by Imaginary Sandy on May 20, 2012 at 05:12 PM in reply to Sandy
      Sandy Sandy Sandy. For many many decades now there has been a legal thing called "disparity of force". Check it out, it is real and has a legal definition. The fact that you did not and apparently still do not have to motivation to take appropriate steps to learn your rights . . . well, you are going to get the treatment you deserve. The US Supreme Court rules years ago that the police have no duty to protect you. That officer may have simply thought he (or she) was acting in the best interest of the nation as a whole. One less lazy person seldom a bad thing.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 20, 2012 at 05:13 PM in reply to Sandy
      You were lied to.
    • reply
      by GV on May 21, 2012 at 04:57 AM in reply to Sandy
      Yes,you were lied to.Police officers aren't the ones who decide whether anyone goes to prison or not.
  • by Anonymous on May 20, 2012 at 12:34 PM
    Not long ago I heard a hardcore, leftwing feminist try to argue that no women are covered under SYG. The fact is that SYG is gender neutral. What it does not cover is anger, revenge or stupidity.
  • by Anonymous on May 20, 2012 at 12:13 PM
    Chris Smith should be fired. The guy lacks any mental capacity.
    • reply
      by Morals too on May 20, 2012 at 05:15 PM in reply to
      Hey, lets not forget moral values. That needs to be noted as well. Of course it could be argued that what he is doing is trying to cut down on the number of his thugsins (thug cousins) being put in the ground by law abiding citizens. So yes, if one looks at this from an immoral perspective, he is doing a very good thing!
  • by ddd Location: tally on May 20, 2012 at 10:13 AM
    Anyone who can legally own a Gun is covered under the "Stand Your Ground" Law, INCLUDING Battered Women. A woman being Beaten by someone, including Her Husband, has a RIGHT to use deadly force to protect Herself while the beating is taken place. She can NOT, however, wait until He goes to sleep and then kill Him.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 20, 2012 at 12:45 PM in reply to ddd
      I understand your point, but, legally owning a gun, or guns in general, have nothing to do with SYG. "FS 776.013 (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." Firearms are not even mentioned in the entire statute. A person can use any means available to defend themselves, clubs, knives, chairs, teeth, bad breath, etc. Legally owning a firearm would disqualify a lot of people, who have a right to defend their own life, whether they can legally own a firearm of not.
      • reply
        by DTH on May 21, 2012 at 03:53 PM in reply to
        True. The sad part here is, a lot of Battered Women kill the Betterer well AFTER the Battering was over.
  • by Anonymous on May 20, 2012 at 06:02 AM
    I believe that "Stand your Ground " is a great thing. I hope it will restore respect in ALL communities and will not be distorted into a "Race" issue.When you exit your residence that is when your obligation to respect others property begins.As far as Estranged couples exchanging children for custody sharing them at the Police dept. if there is the possibility of a dispute. Protect our rights to use guns to gain the respect we deserve. If you come to my neighborhood respect the ones who live here or you will find out that we "Stand Our Ground"
  • by X-law on May 20, 2012 at 03:50 AM
    It's sad that politicians and fools are worried about "stand your ground law" while the Atty.General of the US turns his head to black panthers offering a reward for an American citizen dead or alive, or stand in front of a voting booth with clubs, but is proud to prosecute a former baseball player for lying to Congress, hmm, how many in Congress/White House lie to Americans everyday. Why haven't heads rolled over the thousand plus guns that went to Mexico drug cartels, but the Atty.General is concerned about the Florida law. Tell it like it is, if the tables were turned,Martin used the gun as self defense, nothing would have been said. No loud mouth Al, No J.Jackson, etc. I'm over 70, and I say, it's better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6,
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 20, 2012 at 09:22 PM in reply to X-law
      Funny how that never made the news huh? Doesnt matter that 2 blacks poured gasoline on a kid and lit him on fire in front of his mother does it? Doesnt matter that a black 'gangster' wanna-be shot a black 4 y/o in the head during a robbery does it? Nope, only matters that this 'white' guy shot a black 'innocent kid'. You all should blame the media, president and all the other ignorant people out there who continue to refuse to change and continue to be racist.
  • by this guy is an elected leader? on May 19, 2012 at 10:10 PM
    This guy is an idiot and has not a clue to what he is talking about. Yes, the statute says that an invited guest is considered a 'resident' but that doesnt mean that if they start attacking you, that you cant meet force with force. 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. straight from the statute.
  • by ? on May 19, 2012 at 09:01 PM
    Why can't the Stand your Ground law help women who are being beaten, raped, and stalked. It never ends. Why can't they shoot the SOB when he's taking her kids and running off with them, knowing he's abusive. The world has gone crazy.
    • reply
      by this guy is an elected leader? on May 19, 2012 at 10:13 PM in reply to ?
      It can and does. This 'leader' just interpreted what he wanted to. go read the statutes. This guy is a complete moron.
    • reply
      by secretkpr9 on May 20, 2012 at 04:18 PM in reply to ?
      There is no "threat or endangerment to life or possibility of great bodily harm in the scenario you outline. Simply a dispute regarding custody. The children aren't "her" children in those disputes. It' their children (unless the court decided full custody). The father CANNOT be denied visitation or even custody if it has not been adjudicated previously. This IS NOT a deadly force scenario as you outline.
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