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Legislators re-thinking stand your ground

Posted on March 23, 2012 3:00 AM EST

In 2005, the Florida legislature passed the "Stand Your Ground" law under Florida Statue 776.013 (3) which provides that a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she had 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 to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. Since the law's inception, Miami criminal attorneys and defense lawyers from around the state have increasingly used the new law as a primary defense to violent crimes such as murder and manslaughter. The use of the law has drastically increased in the last year and a half.

The "Stand Your Ground Law" has been invoked more than 130 times since it hit the books. The recent slaying of Trayvon Martin has brought the controversial law back into the spotlight as the other person involved in the case, George Zimmerman, who allegedly shot the victim has yet to be charged. Zimmerman has not been charged with any violent crime to date despite a public outcry for the contrary. The governor of Florida announced that he is assembling a task force to review and study the new law. Out of 130 cases that have involved the new law, 70% of the cases have involved a fatality. Defense lawyers in 50 cases used to the law to prevent their clients from being charged with violent crimes, such as murder, manslaughter or aggravated battery charges. In 10 cases, the law was able to allow defendants to plead to lesser charges. Twenty-eight "Stand Your Ground" cases have made to trial, with prosecutors achieving convictions on 19 occasions.

To invoke the self-defense law, counsel must file a motion to dismiss which will be heard by the circuit court prior to the commencement of the trial. After hearing testimonial evidence and reviewing the physical evidence, the judge can either dismiss the case or deny the motion and set the case for trial. Prosecutors and law enforcement officers have long been opponents of the "Stand Your Ground" law, as there are seldom any witnesses or physical evidence to refute the surviving person's version of the events. Proponents of the law say the law as it stands on the books is allowing citizens to defend themselves from violent crimes. Until the recent shooting of Trayvon Martin, changes in the law were not imminent. Today, it appears as if the legislature is going to scrutinize the law sooner than later.

Part of the problem with the new law is that it is being applied differently throughout the state. Once set of facts in Miami may lend itself to a dismissal, while a case in Ocala with the same set of facts will end up going to trial. The main variable that lends itself to disparate results is that the law can be interpreted differently based on the same set facts. The law requires a judge to consider a defendant's or potential defendant's state of mind which is always a difficult thing to do. The law is likely to be reviewed on an expedited basis as protests are occurring in Sanford, Florida as we speak during an election year. Until the law is reviewed and perhaps changed, the viability of the defense of justifiable use of deadly force will be decided on a case by case basis with a lack of visibility of success.

Number of Stand Your Ground Cases Rises as Legislators Re-Think Law, Miami Herald.com, March 23, 2012.