Stand Your Ground Calls More For Clarification Than Repeal

By: David Royse, The News Service of Florida
By: David Royse, The News Service of Florida


David Royse, The News Service of Florida

While there's no consensus on whether the state's "stand your ground" self defense law may apply in the Trayvon Martin case, and not everyone agrees on whether it's bad or good law, a consensus is emerging that it may not be as clear as it could be as to what it allows and doesn't.

As the 2005 law has come under intense scrutiny in the wake of the Sanford shooting of the unarmed 17-year-old Martin, veteran lawmakers haven't been able to agree even on what the measure allows, which, the bill's sponsor acknowledges may point to a need for clarification.

"There's nothing in the statute that provides for any kind of aggressive action, in terms of pursuit and confront," said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the measure in 2005. "So I think that's been some misapplication of this statute. If anything could come out of this very tragic circumstance, it could be some clarification of when this applies and how.

It's always hard to predict what lawmakers might do on a particular issue, but several members of the Legislature on both sides of the law supporters and opponents did say this week that it likely would come in for some clarification. And while there have been calls for repeal, particularly from a few black lawmakers, most said they thought some sort of change was more likely.

"There's a critical and urgent need to look at the law, and at least clarify it, or explain it," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, one of several African-American legislators who have called for revisiting the statute either in a special session, or when lawmakers convene.

The incoming Democratic leader in the House, Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, and also African-American, acknowledged that a full repeal of the law isn't likely, but also referred to the general sense that prosecutors, police and even judges may not know exactly where the lines are in terms of self defense in a public setting.

"The concern is that the application has not been fully explained, there's some vagueness about some of the terms," said Thurston. "We just need to make sure it's being applied appropriately."

Supporters of the law, which allows the use of defensive lethal force in public without a duty to retreat first, say it's not clear yet whether it would apply in the shooting death of Martin last month in Sanford. George Zimmerman, a community resident who had volunteered for the neighborhood crime watch, shot Martin in what he told police was self defense. The case has gained national attention but has also drawn new attention to the stand your ground law, which was first passed in Florida, but is now law in several other states. Zimmerman's lawyer, Craig Sonner, said in a nationally televised interview, that the stand your ground defense probably would come into the case. Zimmerman hasn't been arrested or charged with anything.

The measure largely expanded common law doctrine about what people may do to defend themselves when attacked in their home or car they have long been able to stand their ground and fight force with force in those places. Under the 2005 law, that also goes for people who feel threatened out in public, in a street, a business, or at a public event, for example.

Meanwhile, the incoming Senate Democratic leader, Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, again urged Gov. Rick Scott to let lawmakers look at the issue sooner rather than later, pleading for the governor to call a special session. Smith had asked earlier this week for a special session on the stand your ground law, but Scott said he wants to wait until a law enforcement investigation is complete and then have a task force meet make recommendations on what, if anything, to do about the state's self defense law.

"A preventable death is exactly what you're risking now," Smith responded in a second letter on Wednesday. "We have more than enough evidence already on hand of the deadly confrontations and self defense claims to begin a closer examination of the laws track record and whether changes are needed to stop its abuse. There is absolutely no reason the public should accept any delay when seven years of history already exist."

Rep. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat, said earlier this week that many who don't think the law works very well might be OK with a new measure that seeks to clarify how it should work but said that at a minimum that had to happen.

"If not, I can definitely look to see multiple offerings of repealing the law," said Bullard.

Lawmakers aren't currently scheduled to return until next year and won't file new legislation until after the November election.

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  • by M on Mar 30, 2012 at 05:53 AM
    SYG needs no clarification. The law reads clear to me. What part is problematic?
  • by Anonymous on Mar 30, 2012 at 05:23 AM
    Rather than repeal this law , we need toenact another law called "defend your neighborhood" which would allow the use of deadly force to defend your neighborhood. If the neighborhood post a sign at all of the entry ways that alerts "thugs" to the consequences then that neighborhood has the right to allow property owners to confront at gunpoint anyone they believe has"no business" there. If the suspect wants a confrontation at that point then "POW" ....this is how you stop crime ladies and gentlemen.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Apr 7, 2012 at 02:16 AM in reply to
      i second the motion
  • by dog Location: gone on Mar 29, 2012 at 01:27 PM
    Don't try and Rob or attack or break into my house and I won't Shoot you. If I tell you to Freeze and put your hands up do it and Maby I won't shoot you.
  • by The white man on Mar 29, 2012 at 01:26 PM
    We do have this fact. We know from the 911 tapes, Mr Zimmerman was following Mr Martin. If Mr Martin had a gun and stood his gound, he would more than likely be in jail. Mr Zimmerman is free. That's the reason the law need some work.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Mar 29, 2012 at 03:19 PM in reply to The white man
      Trayvon would have went to jail had he pulled a gun and shot Zimmerman for both possession of a handgun by a minor and carrying a concealed weapon w/o a valid license as he is not old enough to even obtain one.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Mar 29, 2012 at 03:39 PM in reply to The white man
      We also know from the tapes that when the dispatcher said they didn't need him to follow him that he said ok and agreed to meet the cops somewhere. Besides, it is not illegal for him to follow someone. What happened after that will eventually come up. I suggest we all wait until then. As for your hypothetical situation, you don't know that and your comment is promoting more racial strife. Cut it out.
    • reply
      by cracker on Mar 29, 2012 at 07:58 PM in reply to The white man
      yea he was following the kid because he was snooping around carslooking for something to steal. but zimmerman get's no thanks for that.
  • by andersd Location: Crawfordville on Mar 29, 2012 at 01:03 PM
    If he chased him and the kid had not broken into his home or vehicle then he had no reason to chase him and get close enough to need to Stand His Ground. It is people like him that screws up laws like this that we all need to protect ourselves when we are in real danger. He could have followed him at a distance and notified the Police where he was. The Law does not need to be changed. WE NEED THE ABILITY TO STAND OUR GROUND AT HOME, IN PUBLIC AND ETC. regardless to protect each of us and our family. You never know when some gang member is going to stick a gun in your back at night in one of the parking lots in this town or anyother town for that matter.
    • reply
      by He had a reason.. on Mar 29, 2012 at 03:11 PM in reply to andersd
      he was the security guy...wake up.
  • by william on Mar 29, 2012 at 12:37 PM
    a tallahasse officer shot and killed aman ia a scuffel a few ywars ago he feared for his life whats the difference doesnt matter about traning I would shoot some one to save my life you dont have time to think about other ways in life or death situatations
  • by DoHuh? on Mar 29, 2012 at 12:31 PM
    Oh common sense how we miss you.......
  • by uknown Location: unknown on Mar 29, 2012 at 10:50 AM
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Mar 29, 2012 at 12:33 PM in reply to uknown
      Your right, and this is where the issue is. Was he defending himself?
      • reply
        by just pay them off tax payers and be done with it. on Mar 29, 2012 at 08:02 PM in reply to
        at first beforethe facks started comeing out i thought he mudered the kid. but now i regret signing the against zimmerman. they were really pushing it trying to get as many people to sign was one sided.
  • by Anonymous on Mar 29, 2012 at 09:41 AM
    This law is very clear, however, with "ANY" issue or statute it all comes down to the burden off proof. The reason we have a judicial system is to avoid mob scenes that can lead to riots, hangings, burnings and beheadings like back in the old days.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Mar 29, 2012 at 12:32 PM in reply to
      Right. This is now a thing for the courts to decide, not the legislature, the Governor, Al, Jesse, or a group of people marching around in protest.
  • by Dale Location: Tallahassee on Mar 29, 2012 at 08:59 AM
    That's more like it, much better headline. It's foolish to create or repeal a law based on one situation, especially a situation we don't have all the evidence on!
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