Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, the controversial piece of legislation that received widespread attention following the death of Trayvon Martin last year, was upheld this past Thursday by a group of Florida lawmakers who rejected a proposal to repeal the law. Additionally, the legislative committee expanded the existing law, allowing a person who believes they are in to fire a warning shot.
The “Stand Your Ground” law, as it’s commonly called, is section 776.013.03 of the Florida State Statues. The law declares that a person who is not engaged in an unlawful act has no duty to retreat, and that they may meet force with force (including deadly force) if the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to themselves or someone else – or to prevent the commission “of a forcible felony.”
Our South Florida criminal defense attorneys are well aware of the polarizing nature of the law; those who oppose it criticize the law as one that allows for and even sanctions unjust killings. Those who support the law, on the other hand, argue that the law enables them to exercise methods of self-defense.
Despite what one might thing based on the media’s reporting of crime in Florida, the Sunshine State is not the only state in which “Stand Your Ground”-type laws exist. In fact, 22 states in the country have similar laws, while a total of 46 have laws based on what is known as the “castle doctrine,” i.e., the idea that a person does not have to retreat whatsoever if their house or anyone in the house is under attack. (Florida’s law, and the others like it, take the so-called castle doctrine a step further and allow an individual to stand their ground in the type of situations described above – not just while they are in their home.)
As described in this article from the Tampa Bay Times, the bill to repeal the law, which was sponsored by Democratic State Rep. Alan Williams, would have explicitly repealed the law, retaining none of the existing legislation. On the other hand, Republican State Rep. Marti Coley, called the law a “solid” one and, as justification for the legitimacy of the law, pointed to the fact that Florida’s crime rate is the lowest it’s been in 42 years.
The law has received relatively little attention until recently. After neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman killed the unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, and was not initially arrested for the killing, people all over the state and all around the country cried foul. While the 776.013.03 was not used as a legal defense in the trial, the law was cited as the reason for why Zimmerman was not initially arrested. As such, there arose widespread criticism of the law and ubiquitous calls for its repeal.
Despite the passion and sentiments of countless individuals, the Florida legislative committee that reviewed the proposed repeal affirmed their support of the law; as such, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law will remain a part of the State Statutes. Furthermore, the committee expanded the law, and approved an amendment making it legal for an individual who believes they are in danger to fire a warning shot. (Click here to read one of our blogs about this very issue.)
As experienced criminal defense attorneys, we know that not everyone who brandishes a gun is a bad guy. Many times, individuals own firearms for self-defense purposes. With the maintenance of this self-defense law here in Florida, it will remain legal for individuals to protect themselves.
Had the law been repealed, individuals would have been rendered largely defenseless against violent attacks; why would a violent offender think twice about attacking someone if he knew they weren’t allowed to retaliate?
If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.