Florida lawmakers agree to hearings on 'Stand Your Ground' law

MIAMI Fri Aug 2, 2013 10:20pm EDT

An opponent of Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law wears a button against handguns outside a meeting o the law in Longwood, Florida, June 12, 2012. REUTERS/David Manning

An opponent of Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law wears a button against handguns outside a meeting o the law in Longwood, Florida, June 12, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/David Manning

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MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida lawmakers will hold hearings this fall on the state's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law, which has become a lightning rod for criticism following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.

The announcement on Friday by Will Weatherford, the speaker of Florida's House of Representatives, marked the biggest concession yet by the state's Republican leaders to protesters' demands for a top-to-bottom review of the law, which allows people in fear of serious injury to use deadly force to defend themselves rather than retreat.

Since Zimmerman's acquittal on July 13, Martin's grieving parents, backed by African-American civic leaders, celebrities, students and political figures, including President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, have all said the Stand Your Ground law needs to be re-examined.

Weatherford, in an opinion column published in the Tampa Tribune, said he had asked Representative Matt Gaetz, a fellow Republican who chairs the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, to lead the hearings. Weatherford did not set a date for the hearings or say how long they would last.

"Across Florida, representatives are receiving calls, letters, visits and emails from constituents with diverse opinions on 'Stand Your Ground,'" Weatherford said. "Passions are high, but every person has the right to express their views on this matter of great importance."

"It's a critical step," said Phillip Agnew, who heads a group of young demonstrators calling themselves the Dream Defenders who have staged a nearly month-long sit-in outside Governor Rick Scott's office in a bid to change the law. "We're excited about having an open debate," he told Reuters.

Advocates of the law, the first of its kind in the country and now copied in more than 20 other states, say violent crime has fallen since it was enacted.

But critics see the self-defense law as emblematic of racial bias and unequal justice in America, since some studies have shown that defense claims made under the law are far more likely to be successful when the victim is black.

Two of the six jurors in the Zimmerman case have said the Stand Your Ground law left them with no option but to acquit him.

"Our evaluation of its (the law's) effectiveness should be guided by objective information, not by political expediency," Weatherford wrote.

"Does the law keep the innocent safer? Is it being applied fairly? Are there ways we can make this law clearer and more understandable?" he asked.

Most U.S. voters support the "Stand Your Ground" laws, although the question of whether to retreat or use deadly force in self defense divides Americans along gender, racial and political lines, a national Quinnipiac University poll found on Friday.

The poll found that a strong majority of white voters and men support the laws, while black voters generally oppose them and women are almost evenly divided.

(Reporting by Tom Brown; additional reporting by Bill Cotterell editing by Jackie Frank)

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Comments (10)
gacha wrote:
Yehaw, Free Americky!

I hope legislators do not “stand their ground” on this embarrassing and uncivilized law. If only America would grow up about guns.

When a law can be used by a man with no legal right to assault another and then get away with murder, that law must be changed.

Aug 02, 2013 11:24pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Speaker2 wrote:
Oh bigtex being the racist retarder as always.

Aug 03, 2013 1:32am EDT  --  Report as abuse
GuestOoo wrote:
“the general rule is that the person claiming self-defense must not have provoked the slain party in any way. If the situation arose because of the actions of the eventual killer, the killer cannot argue that the slaying occurred in self-defense. It might lessen the severity of the charge, but provocation by the defendant negates the possibility of an acquittal because of self-defense.”

“Provocation” Under Texas Law
A 1998 landmark case from the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, Smith v. State, upheld the following jury instruction:

If the evidence allows an inference beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim attacked the defendant in response to something the defendant did or said, this will be sufficient to allow the jury to find the first issue (PROVOCATION) in the affirmative.

The Texas high court explained:

“The law clearly requires that the defendant do or say something to cause the attack on him.” The second element of provocation the state must prove at trial is that “the defendant’s acts or words were reasonably calculated to provoke the attack.”

Houston jury convicted Raul Rodriguez of 2nd degree murder for shooting and killing his neighbor, Kelly Danaher following an argument about loud music.

The law of self defense is intended to protect innocent people. A person who sets out to provoke a conflict cannot normally later claim self defense as a justification for their use of force in those scenarios. This is the law in Kentucky, as in every other state.

With that principle in mind, the trial the judge had instructed the jury:

“[i]f you believe from the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that [the Defendant] provoked [the Victim] to use or attempt to use physical force upon the defendant, and that they did so with the intention of causing death or serious physical injury to [the Defendant], then the defense of self-protection is not available to him.”

As a practical matter, this instruction all but assured a guilty verdict. It was uncontestable that the Defendant’s slashing of the tires had provoked the Victim’s armed pursuit. And it was inarguable that the Victim had intended to cause the Defendant death or serious bodily force, as he had armed himself with a handgun for his pursuit of the Defendant.

Inevitably, then, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of second degree manslaughter, a lesser-included offense of the original charge of murder. The Defendant was sentenced to 10 years in prison.


The court also concluded, based on Gulbronson’s behavior, that it would be appropriate to give WIS JI—CRIMINAL 815 on provocation. Provocation may prevent someone from claiming the privilege of self-defense. See WIS. STAT. § 939.48(2)(a) (2007-08).[1] The court explained that the instruction “clearly applies under the circumstances in light of the testimony that was elicited, in light of the evidence, and to be fair in terms of everything that’s presented as an instruction.” The jury convicted Gulbronson on the aggravated battery charge. The court sentenced him to eighteen months’ initial confinement and thirty months’ extended supervision.

As to the provocation instruction, the State argued that prior case law had held that conduct as simple as fighting words could justify giving the instruction. Here, the State asserted, Gulbronson pulled Scholler from bed, then followed her to the kitchen and pulled her hair, provoking subsequent events.

Aug 03, 2013 2:44am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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