Florida’s Stand Your Ground law has been controversial since it was passed back in 2005. The law extends the Castle Doctrine - the legal protection of absolute self-defense one has in the confines of their home or car - to any place where a citizen has a legal right to be.
In essence, the crux of the law is that you can meet “force with force” and “stand your ground” if confronted with the possibility of death or serious bodily harm.
Earlier this month, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
While Zimmerman did not file a Stand Your Ground motion, where he would have asked the court to issue a declaration of immunity due to the lawful exercise of lethal force, the jury instruction on justifiable use of deadly force mirrors the language of the Stand Your Ground law. You cannot be found guilty of a crime if you use lethal force when you are in a place where you have the right to be and you reasonably believe that you must use lethal force to protect yourself against seriously bodily injury or imminent death.
Based on that criteria, Zimmerman was acquitted.
In the aftermath of the trial, people are questioning the wisdom of a Stand Your Ground law or any derivative thereof that grants people a legal right to kill unarmed people.
You don’t have to be armed to be dangerous. The Zimmerman trial showed what one teenager could do to a grown man with his own fists and a concrete sidewalk.
Florida Governor Rick Scott has stated that the Stand Your Ground law is fine as it is and does not need a revision.
However, many civil rights leaders - who believe that Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin due to the fact that he was black - think that the law will encourage other people to kill unarmed black teenagers out of fear.
The evidence in the Zimmerman trial did not indicate that the shooting was racially motivated. However, without injecting race into the argument, some people are suggesting a return to the old self-defense law. Prior to Stand Your Ground, if you were attacked in public - that is, outside of your home or outside of your car - you had a duty to retreat, or run away, unless you could not safely do so.
The proponents of a Stand Your Ground revision are suggesting that the law reapply the language requiring somebody to retreat or make an effort to retreat before using lethal force.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami-Dade and Broward.