Trayvon Martin Death Defense Hinges on Flimsy NRA-Backed “Stand Your Ground” Florida Law

Mar 21, 2012
8:39 am

By now, the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin on February 26 is being covered from a variety of online news outlets and mainstream media organizations. It is a case that swelled from social media, and news organizations, even though they weren't the spark plugs that gave this story national attention, have now made it a story that matters.

One of the biggest issues regarding Martin's death and how George Zimmerman might defend himself is a "Stand Your Ground Law" that is on the books in Florida and also in 19 other states. Here is the full text from Florida archives of the two laws that were passed in 2005 (boldface phrases highlighted by our editors):

Protection of Persons and Property: Authorizes a person to use force, including deadly force, against an intruder or attacker in a dwelling, residence, or vehicle under certain circumstances; creates a presumption that a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm exists; creates a presumption that a person acts with the intent to use force or violence; provides that a person is justified in using deadly force under certain circumstances; declares that a person has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force in certain circumstances; authorizes a law enforcement agency to investigate the use of deadly force but prohibits the agency from arresting the person unless the agency determines that there is probable cause that the force used was unlawful; provides for the award of attorney's fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and other expenses to a defendant in a civil suit who was immune from prosecution for justifiable use of force.

Protection of Persons/Use of Force: authorizes person to use force, including deadly force, against intruder or attacker in dwelling, residence, or vehicle under specified circumstances; provides that person is justified in using deadly force under certain circumstances; provides immunity from criminal prosecution or civil action for using deadly force; defines term "criminal prosecution", etc. Creates 776.013,.032; amends 776.012,.031.

What is interesting to note is that BOTH of the bill's co-sponsors have gone on record this week to say that the Stand Your Ground law does not apply to George Zimmerman. This is what was reported in the Miami Herald:

But the lawmakers who crafted the legislation in 2005 — former Sen. Durell Peaden and current state Rep. Dennis Baxley — said the law doesn’t need to be changed. They believe it has been misapplied in the shooting death of Trayvon by a Sanford crime-watch captain, George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman has not been charged because, police said, it appears he acted in self-defense. The Seminole County state attorney’s office decided Tuesday to take the case before a grand jury.

“They got the goods on him. They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid,” said Peaden, a Crestview Republican who sponsored the deadly force law in 2005. “He has no protection under my law.”

Peaden and Baxley, R-Ocala, say their law is a self-defense act. It says law-abiding people have no duty to retreat from an attacker and can meet “force with force.” Nowhere does it say that a person has a right to confront another.

The 911 tapes strongly suggest Zimmerman overstepped his bounds, they say, when the Sanford neighborhood crime-watch captain said he was following Trayvon and appeared to ignore a police request to stay away.

“The guy lost his defense right then,” said Peaden. “When he said ‘I’m following him,’ he lost his defense.”

Meanwhile, NPR ran a segment that discussed the history of the Stand Your Ground law. The following is quite telling:

NPR HOST MELISSA BLOCK: Tell us more about what exactly the stand your ground law says. It was passed in 2005 in Florida.

DAVID OVALLE OF THE MIAMI HERALD: Well, prior to the passage of the law, a citizen in Florida had the duty to retreat when confronted with lethal force or with deadly force or the perception of deadly force. So they – someone had to retreat. But now, the way the law is structured, you can meet deadly force by basically standing your ground. Where you are is your castle, and you have the right to protect yourself. The problem comes with a lot of the police and prosecutors think that it basically gives carte blanche to shoot first and ask questions later. The law was also tweaked to give immunity to anyone from civil suit and from prosecution anyone deemed to have been using self-defense.

BLOCK: Well, who – at the time that the law was passed, who was in favor, and who was against?

OVALLE: Well, this was an NRA bill, and this is a Republican-dominated legislature, so, you know, it passed pretty easily. And it's been drawing complaints ever since.

BLOCK: NRA meaning the National Rifle Association, which…

OVALLE: Correct, correct.

CNN reported yesterday that Florida governor Rick Scott  will very likely review this law after the Martin case is resolved:

Gov. Rick Scott told reporters on Tuesday that, once the Sanford case is investigated, the law may need review.

"When you see any violence, it is always positive to go back and think about existing laws," Scott said. "To review the impact and its consequences. "

And "The Last Word" also weighed in last night about this law.

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