Historic City News was notified Friday that Governor Scott’s special task force set, up after the slaying of central Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, recommended Friday that Florida keep it’s “stand your ground” law — permitting residents to use deadly force in street confrontations.
However, it did call for minor changes to spell out the duties of neighborhood-watch organizations and to consider racial aspects of cases when the law is invoked as a defense.
“I think this report is exactly as we anticipated,” said Marion Hammer, the main state lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. “There is nothing wrong with the law, except that it needs a few little tweaks.”
The 2005 statute removed the legal duty of residents to “retreat” or otherwise seek safety when confronted by a robber or assailant in a potentially violent confrontation. It permits any law-abiding citizen to use any force, including a gun, to defend themself.
The law is being used by George Zimmerman, a Sanford neighborhood watch member who is charged with second-degree murder in the February 26 slaying of Martin, a black 17-year-old Miami youth whom Zimmerman said looked suspicious while walking in a gated community. Martin was unarmed and was returning to his father’s home from a convenience store.
Police initially freed Zimmerman, who said Martin jumped him and pounded his head against pavement, and the case touched off a nationwide debate about race relations and firearms. State Attorney Angela Corey of Jacksonville was brought in as a special prosecutor, and charged Zimmerman in the slaying.
The task force made no attempt to judge the facts or circumstances of the Zimmerman case, but directed its recommendations to the Legislature. Its top finding was that “all persons who are conducting themselves in a lawful manner have a fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to be.”
The panel recommended that lawmakers examine the definition of “unlawful activity,” to clarify when people may not invoke the stand your ground defense. It also recommended that police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and courts “increase training and education” about the laws of self-defense.
The task force said the Florida Supreme Court made a ruling in 2010 on when a pretrial hearing is necessary for the stand your ground defense, and recommended that prosecutors and judges rely on that ruling in future cases.
“The task force recommends the Legislature consider funding further study of the correlation and causation to include variables such as race, ethnicity, gender, application and fairness of the law in regard to the expansion of self-defense laws in the state of Florida, including a statistical comparison with other states,” said the report.
Hammer said the existing law “clearly states that someone who initiates aggressive contact is not protected by the stand your ground defense.” She said prosecutors and police agencies view each case differently, in different parts of the state, and that lawmakers may want to clear up ambiguities in how to apply the law.