George Zimmerman’s July 13 acquittal by a Florida jury on second-degree murder charges in the February 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin has spurred renewed calls to repeal ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws across the country — even though Zimmerman’s attorneys never used the Castle Doctrine extension as a defense during the trial.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns have vowed to use the verdict as grounds to repeal ‘Stand Your Ground’ in Florida and elsewhere nationwide.
Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law was passed in 2005 in a 39-0 vote in the state Senate and 94-20 tally in the state House. It was the first self-defense law in the country that allowed people to defend themselves with force if they felt threatened in their home, business, car, or a place where they “have a legal right to be.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 31 states have adopted the Castle doctrine, which says a person has no duty to retreat when their home is attacked. Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law removed the “duty of retreat” from anywhere the defender may legally be. Since it became law in Florida, 20 other states have adopted similar ‘Stand Your Ground’ extensions of the Castle Doctrine.
Less than a half hour after the verdict, Sen. Chris Smith (D-Ft. Lauderdale) called for a reexamination of the state’s self-defense laws, telling the Miami Herald that the state’s self-defense laws are “confusing.”
“If someone makes the claim of self-defense and the only other witness to the confrontation is dead,” Smith said, “there needs to be a higher standard for proving that the use of deadly force was justified.” As a side note, it should be noted there was a witness in the Zimmerman case.
In 2012, a Florida task force headed by the lieutenant government reviewed the law, but only called for minor changes that required no action from the Legislature.
“The liberal activists tried to use that tragedy (the shooting death of Trayvon Martin) as an opportunity to take our rights as Americans,” Florida House Speaker Rep. Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) told the Miami Herald. “We stood our ground on ‘Stand Your Ground.'”
The fact that Zimmerman never used ‘Stand Your Ground’ as a defense seems immaterial to those opposed to the law. They claim the statute’s language influenced the case from the beginning — from Zimmerman’s behavior, to the two-month delay in Zimmerman’s arrest, to the final instructions to the jury, which read:
“If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
Defenders of ‘Stand Your Ground’ say the jury instructions embody the intent of what they describe as “a good law.”
“People want to use this case for their political platform,” Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), sponsor of the 2005 ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, told the Associated Press on July 14. “But really, the prosecution didn’t prove its case. It wasn’t ‘Stand Your Ground.’ The case came down to basic self-defense: me or thee.”
Few see much chance that ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws will be repealed in Florida or elsewhere in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict.
“Count on a hung jury,” writes Marc Caputo on July 15 in the Miami Herald. “There’s just too much raw, partisan emotion surrounding too many intractable issues (guns, crime, race) for any major consensus.”
For more, go to:
— Legal Insights on the Zimmerman Verdict