Florida legislators recently voted not to hold a special session to consider repealing the state’s controversial Stand Your Ground law. This means that the law will remain as is without any changes for the time being.
After the George Zimmerman verdict, there was a tremendous outcry to change the state’s law that says that if you are in a public place where you have a legal right to be, you have no duty to retreat and can meet force with force, including lethal force, if confronted with the threat of bodily harm or death.
First of all, Stand Your Ground is not a trial defense. It is a pre-trial immunity. When a defendant invokes the Stand Your Ground law, he or she will file a pre-trial motion with the court asking the court to grant them immunity from prosecution.
Stand Your Ground is not a defense raised at trial. The differences between Stand Your Ground and Justifiable Use of Force (whether deadly or non-deadly) are similar. However, when you go to trial, you rely upon Florida’s self-defense jury instruction.
The media and the public have been misinformed regarding Stand Your Ground. Stand Your Ground was never part of Zimmerman’s case. Florida’s jury instruction on justifiable use of deadly force was, but not Stand Your Ground. If people take issue with the jury instruction’s language, that’s a separate issue.
Stand Your Ground has helped many accused people avoid prosecution for serious crimes. Florida citizens have a right to defend their lives in the face of danger. All the Stand Your Ground law does is remove the common law duty to retreat when faced with danger outside of the home.
Under the pre-Stand Your Ground law, you had to first run away from your attacker if you could. Stand Your Ground permits just that - you can stand your ground and defend yourself against your attacker.
As for now, Florida citizens will continue to be able to protect themselves.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami and Broward.