In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law is under scrutiny by the public, the media, and now the government.
Passed in 2005, this law permits people who are in places where they have a legal right to be to use force, including lethal force, if they are in a situation where they reasonably believe that such force is necessary to the save their life or the life of another, or to protect themselves or another from serious bodily injury.
However, from 2007 through 2010, the Sun Sentinel found that 388 killings in Florida were ruled justifiable homicides. During the previous seven years, there had been only 237 such cases. Several of these cases involved shootings by law enforcement.
So, is Stand Your Ground creating a generation of vigilantes, or is Stand Your Ground finally allowing people to defend their own lives?
Florida law is clear: you do not have to be a victim. You do not have to curl up in a fetal ball and cry and beg for your life. You are allowed to fight back. You are allowed to fight back with your fists or a knife or even a gun if you reasonably believe that such force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury.
With that being said, is the increase in justifiable deaths (deaths where police and/or prosecutors have ruled that Stand Your Ground applied) due to the law being passed or are people feeling bold enough to commit murder without consequence?
I believe that the overall homicide rate has remained steady. Whereas ten years ago, when Stand Your Ground did not exist, these people would have been prosecuted and their "crimes" would not have been considered justifiable. Now, with Florida law extending personal protection beyond the confines of your home, people are able to defend themselves in situations where they previously could not.
There will always be flaws in our justice system. As a defense attorney, I see them everyday. However, the overall aim of the Stand Your Ground law is good. It permits people to protect themselves. But like all laws, it can be applied improperly or abused.
Stand Your Ground is not a license to kill. You cannot go pick a fight, lose that fight, and then shoot your opponent because you fear you are going to be hurt. That is murder, not self-defense.
However, if somebody confronts you with the intent of doing you harm and you fight back with lethal force? That is the aim of Stand Your Ground.
I encourage public debate on this law. However, I will stand my ground and support the intent and spirit of this law because I believe that its protection is meant to save lives.