Stand Your Ground Panel Starts Work

LONGWOOD, FLORIDA, June 13, 2012 -

The first public hearing of Gov. Rick Scott's Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection offered a wide range of opinion on the "stand your ground" law in Seminole County Tuesday, with roughly 100 people turning out to speak.

Among them were hardline supporters of the statute and the bereaved parents and spouses who'd lost loved ones to shooters who were never charged.

Longwood, near Sanford, was chosen for the panel’s first hearing because it's near where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed on Feb. 26.

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, the panel’s chairwoman, said the charge of the task force is not to debate Trayvon Martin's death or the case of George Zimmerman, who says he shot Martin in self-defense. National outrage over the lack of an arrest in the case prompted Scott to create the task force and to name Jacksonville State Attorney Angela Corey the special prosecutor in Martin's case; she charged Zimmerman with second degree murder.

Carroll said the first public hearing was held here to give its community members some "closure" on the shooting death that has roiled the state and nation for months.

The task force's morning session offered an overview of the law by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Krista Marx. Prosecutors, public defenders and law enforcement officials presented as well.

"Reasonable minds will vary," said Marx – and differing opinions were then expressed.

The afternoon session was the public hearing. Among the speakers was state Sen. Chris Smith, incoming Senate Democratic Leader and leader of an independent panel investigating "stand your ground." He called on the state to start to start keeping statistics on cases affected by the law.

"There are many instances where law enforcement used their discretion not to arrest and state attorneys used their discretion not to charge," said Smith, "so we don’t know of the maybe thousands of times that 'stand your ground' was used and nothing ever happened."

Ronald Vogt, a Seminole County resident who supports the law, said police officers couldn't be everywhere.

"But there come[s] a point in time where I see a robbery or rape or something going down where I need to intervene, I think there's a better probability of saving their life than losing my own. The 'stand your ground' law is the only way of entering in without my going to jail," Vogt said. "I'm not afraid of dying – the only thing I fear is God."

"This is a good law," said B.J. Smith, a retired civil trial lawyer. "Please do not try and fix it."

Other speakers called for changes or clarifications in "stand your ground," including Martin's parents.

Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, parents of the unarmed black teen who was shot killed less than four months ago, didn't necessarily call for the law's repeal. Fulton pleaded with the panel to at least "look at" the law in light of her son's death.

Tracy Martin choked up as he said he'd be spending Father's Day this year at the cemetery. He and Fulton also delivered 375,000 online petitions collected by Second Chance on Shoot First, a national campaign.

Listening to the stories "softened" the stances of panel members, Smith said.

Criminal attorney Mark Seiden, a task force member, said he was disappointed that more local citizens didn't turn out. But Carroll was upbeat.

"From the comments that we heard from the sponsors of the law – and even they came to the forefront and said, 'from what we heard, we need to make some changes, and I'll be receptive'…I want to listen with an honest and open mind," Carroll said.

Many of the speakers didn't want to give up their right to defend themselves, she said, but also want a fair application of the law.

The panel is holding meetings statewide and will make recommendations to Scott and the Legislature about whether the law should be changed.

Carroll said the Smith task force recommendations had been placed on the task force's web site, along with other resources and the opportunity to comment. The address is CitizenSafety@eog.myflorida.com.

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Gov. Rick Scott's appointed Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection holds its first public hearing this morning near Sanford, the site of the Trayvon Martin shooting that spurred the new look at the state's self defense law.

The panel is charged with studying the 2005 "Stand Your Ground," law, which says people out in the streets have no duty to try to retreat before shooting someone to death in self defense. The committee is expected to report its findings to Scott and the Legislature.

An outpouring of public comment is expected, with passions running high on both sides.

The death of Martin, an unarmed black teenager, brought national attention to Florida. His acknowledged shooter, the half-Hispanic George Zimmerman, may invoke the "stand your ground" defense when he faces second degree murder charges. He initially told police he acted in self defense, and wasn't arrested until after a loud outcry and charges of racism.

The particular self defense doctrine has broad support, generally, in many parts of Florida.

"This law is important because it underlines freedom – the freedom and the sanctity and value of every individual in our culture," said state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, House sponsor of "stand your ground" in 2005 and now a member of the panel.

Martin's parents are expected to testify to the panel today.

The National Rifle Association's Marion Hammer – whom many credit for getting "stand your ground" passed – galvanized her members' response by emailing them: "National agitators, numerous state legislators and congressional representatives have been trying to undermine your basic right of self-defense by calling for the repeal of or damaging changes to Florida's 'Castle Doctrine' law."

The Castle Doctrine existed before the Stand Your Ground change. It says that someone's home is their castle, and they're justified in shooting intruders in self defense with no duty to retreat. The stand your ground law was essentially an extension of that doctrine, broadening it to include confrontations outside people's homes: on the so-called "public square."

One lawmaker that will be at today's meeting is incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, who wanted to join the task force but wasn't appointed. He convened his own panel, which called for changes in the law, and will make its report at the meeting in Longwood, near Sanford where the Trayvon Martin shooting occurred in February.

"You have prostitutes shooting their johns and availing themselves of this law," Smith said. "You have gang members having shootouts and availing themselves of this law. You have people chasing someone a block down the street, stabbing someone to death and availing themselves of this law. I think those points need to be clarified."

But former state Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview and the law's Senate sponsor, said it "needs to be preserved." It is being misapplied, he argued.

"It wasn't passed for somebody to chase somebody down the street and shoot 'em in the back," Peaden said. "There's just no quick fix."

Peaden, who was an emergency room doctor for 25 years, said he'd treated many victims after they had defended themselves and didn't sponsor the measure without considering it from many angles.

Florida was the first state to pass "stand your ground," which quickly spread to more than 20 others. A recent study by the Tampa Bay Times identified 192 cases in which the law has been invoked since, with nearly 70 percent of potential defendants going free.

Angela Corey, the state attorney in Jacksonville and special prosecutor in the Martin case, says most cases are clear under the law.

"And if it is so clear-cut, and there is no probable cause to arrest somebody for homicide or attempted homicide – or one of the numerous other statutes where someone hurts another – then we don't make an arrest in that case," Corey said in an interview. "That is…pretty much a clear-cut case when it involves a police officer, homeowner, convenience store clerk."

Benjamin Crump, attorney for the Martin family, said the law should be consistent and transparent, but isn't.

"Even the state's attorneys and the police officers say it's too hard to try to follow what we're supposed to do when we have these stand your ground things, so it could be arbitrarily used," Crump said.

Corey said there are too many variables for that kind of consistency.

"There's so many different ways these cases come in, the paths that they can take – there's no one set of rules," she said. "So you could never take all the 'stand your ground' cases and say, 'Well, how come this person was arrested and this one wasn't? How come this one had a hearing and this one didn't?'"

As to racial bias, the Times study was inconclusive. It found that 73 percent of defendants who killed a black person went free, whereas 59 percent of defendants who killed a white person went free. It also found that whites and blacks who invoked the law were both charged and convicted at roughly the same rate.

"It seemed like more black defendants who shoot and kill other black defendants don't get charged – you won't find that here in Jacksonville. Human life is human life to us. And we go hard on whoever we have to go hard on," Corey said. "We also mitigate whoever we should mitigate, and we offer good deals to whoever deserves a good deal."

Other studies show wider racial gaps. John Roman, a policy fellow at the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center, pointed to national data by the Federal Bureau of Investigation over a five-year period – sorted for single shooter and single victim who are unknown to one another. The data showed that in 70,000 cases deemed justifiable homicide, 25 involved black shooters killing white people, while 350 involved white shooters killing black people.

Roman, who analyzed homicides in the U.S. from 2005 to 2009, found that they are twice as likely to be ruled justifiable in "stand your ground" states and that in many cases, law enforcement officers can't arrest the shooters and question them in detail, even if they consider such interviews essential.

Last Friday, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights announced it will investigate how race affects the enforcement of stand-your-ground laws nationwide.

The governor's task force plans meetings well into the fall – with a report due before the Legislature meets again next March. But Smith says tourists are deciding right now whether to come to Florida – which needs their dollars badly.

"We've gotten numerous emails and numerous accounts from people all around the country that think that this law makes us a lawless society in Florida," he said. "And so I think the sooner the better, especially going into the summer tourist season."

Zimmerman, whose bond was recently revoked, has a new bond hearing scheduled for June 29 before Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by D. Temple Location: Longwood on Jun 15, 2012 at 05:47 AM
    There is nothing wrong with the law. It is up to the police to do an investigation and then make a determination as to whether or not the law applies. This was proven by the case in Texas where the man was convicted and sentenced to life for killing a neighbor while claiming the SYG law. Justice for GZ!
  • by The Real Truth on Jun 13, 2012 at 01:00 PM
    Zimmerman did persue Martin because he got out of his car, why would he do that if he affraid for his life? He would not have done that we would'nt be talking about this case now. Zimmerman got out of his car when he was talking to police dispatch. What news you been watching?
    • reply
      by Justice for Zimmerman on Jun 13, 2012 at 02:50 PM in reply to The Real Truth
      Oaky...I'll type slow so you can understand. Zimmerman was a on neighborhood watc. he had all the right to approach trayvon and question him. Trayvon did not like authority and got violent and tried to kill Zimmerman. Zimmerman shot trayvon in self defense. Case Closed, plain and simple. He will be acquitted
  • by NRA Forever on Jun 13, 2012 at 10:18 AM
    Pursue, provoke, then protect. I love this country! Let's continue to take it back this November!
  • by Just a question? Location: Tallahassee on Jun 13, 2012 at 09:51 AM
    How do you go from a bag of candy and a ice tea to bashing sombodys head in to the ground. That is the real question not the stand your ground law. Was he cought in the act of somthing and dident want to be ratted out to the cops and took in into his own hands?
    • reply
      by Red Drank on Jun 13, 2012 at 11:52 AM in reply to Just a question?
      Do a little research into "Red Drank" and/or "Purple Drank" and know that according to his own typed words the thugling Martin was into it. It will explain a lot.
      • reply
        by truth on Jun 13, 2012 at 03:12 PM in reply to Red Drank
        Trayvon had a can of Arizona tea not red drank!!! thugs carry guns who had the gun!!!!!
  • by Be Fair Location: Tallahassee on Jun 13, 2012 at 08:10 AM
    Balance is key here. There are abuses of this law where some who are actually the aggressors create disturbances and use deadly force to settle while all along claiming to stand their ground. Balancing the law; not necessarily abolishing it is the most reasonable solution.
  • by Repubtallygirl Location: Crawfordville on Jun 13, 2012 at 07:39 AM
    I watched most of this yesterday on TV. The best part was when Sen Simmons defended the law and chastised those who claimed the Legislature bow to ALEC and the NRA. I didn't even know this but ALEC modeled the legislation after FL's law when it went into effect. hmmm....
  • by SF on Jun 13, 2012 at 07:25 AM
    Keep the law! If I'm being punched and beaten into the ground, I have a right to defend myself!
    • reply
      by steve on Jun 13, 2012 at 09:29 AM in reply to SF
      You do have the right to defend yourself but if you started the fight i have the right to defend myself
      • reply
        by Then Why on Jun 13, 2012 at 10:10 AM in reply to steve
        If that is the case then why has Zimmerman been arrested? By NO official account did he "start a fight". None, not even one. I think that you are failing to take into account the reality of the situation. If you and I got into it, you could do as you say with no problem. If either of us and a . . . . "cousin" got into it we are going to be sacrificed at the alter of "I'm really really special because many many generations before my birth, I was captured and sold into slavery by my fellow tribesmen".
        • reply
          by Repubtallygirl on Jun 13, 2012 at 11:39 AM in reply to Then Why
          Angela Cory is just like Mike Nifong.
      • reply
        by GV on Jun 13, 2012 at 10:12 AM in reply to steve
        Asking someone what they are doing is not starting a fight,idiot.What do you idiots not understand?
        • reply
          by truth on Jun 13, 2012 at 03:17 PM in reply to GV
          it's none of your business what i am doing as long as I am walking to my father's house on the side walk!!! you are the idiot!!! he not only asked him he pursued him, have you ever thought in your raciest mind maybe Trayvon felt threatened??? being followed by a stranger????
  • by Anonymous on Jun 13, 2012 at 07:22 AM
    I don't care what they think they are going to accomplish here. If my life is threatened, I will defend myself, whether it be with a gun, knife, stick or my bare hands. This law was orginally put into place because of all the thugs that would threaten people on their own land and get away with it because some jachole lawyer stated the owner could have "possibly" done something different other than shoot the acehole committing the crime. Or say you were getting attacked while sitting in your car, if you could have gotten away then regardless of what the thug did to you you were suppose to NOT defend yourself because you had a way out or at least the lawyer proved he thought you had a way out.
  • by Impartial panel on Jun 13, 2012 at 06:37 AM
    I'd really like to see an "impartial" panel formed to take a look at those pandering to the demographic historically established as most often committing violent assaults. Bet that would be a nation shaker.
  • by Anonymous on Jun 13, 2012 at 06:31 AM
    blacks do not like this law because law abiding citizens are now fighting back against the thugs, and a large majority of the thugs are black.....hurts when the shoe is on the other foot......we will fight back!
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jun 13, 2012 at 10:16 AM in reply to
      I tend to agree because the Stand your Ground law helps keep blacks out of my neighborhood because I can pursue them with the backing of the law and use force if nessessary.
      • reply
        by Nope. Sorry. on Jun 13, 2012 at 11:59 AM in reply to
        Nope. Sorry. "Pursuing" is against the rules. If you are chasing someone no reasonable person would conclude you were legitimately fearing for your life. Oh, and before you try and wiggle some more, lets make it clear that there is absolutely no evidence released into the public domain that establishes Zimmerman was pursuing the thugling. In fact the evidence shows Zimmerman was in immediate proximity to his vehicle. He was either about to get in it, or had just gotten out of it. One or the other - which has not been factually established by evidence yet, but he was indisputably (by rational minds) NOT pursing anyone.
        • reply
          by truth on Jun 13, 2012 at 03:23 PM in reply to Nope. Sorry.
          sorry bud you are wrong zimmerman was pursueing, the evidence is the phone call to his girlfriend while being pursued by Zimmerman!!!
      • reply
        by truth on Jun 13, 2012 at 03:21 PM in reply to
        sorry stupid stand your ground does not give you the right to pursue no one, pursue me and I will stand my gound and defend myself against a starnger followering me!!!!
    • reply
      by truth on Jun 13, 2012 at 03:19 PM in reply to
      glad you feel that way, the next time i see you walking, i may think you "look like you don't belong" and may shoot you!!!!
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Jun 13, 2012 at 08:57 PM in reply to truth
        I'm glad you said that. Now if you're ever involved in a shooting incident, the prosecutor will subpoena your computer records, find that comment, as well as some of the other threatening comments you've posted, and make a case of premeditated murder-1 against you. You may even get lucky and have Angela Corey file charges against you. That would be sweet.
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