Florida Task Force Reaffirms ‘Stand Your Ground’

Friday, 22 Feb 2013 04:09 PM

By Cyrus Afzali

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A task force formed Friday by Florida Gov. Rick Scott following George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black, 17-year-old, recommended additional police training to ensure laws applying to self-defense situations are properly applied, while reaffirming that citizens have a right to defend themselves when threatened.

The task force
was formed following outrage over Martin’s Feb. 26, 2012 shooting. Zimmerman, who was a neighborhood watch volunteer, told police he shot the unarmed Martin in self defense, sparking a debate over a Florida law allowing citizens to use deadly force when they feel threatened. Zimmerman was arrested and faces murder charges. A judge has yet to decide whether the Stand Your Ground principal will apply in his case.

House and Senate Democrats, including Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, have filed a slew of bills that would amend the law or repeal it altogether but GOP legislative leaders say they want the law to remain as is.

Following the incident, Scott formed The Citizen Safety and Protection Task Force, which held a series of meetings around the state and issued draft recommendations in November, which are subject to approval by Florida legislators.

In its findings, the task force reaffirmed the rights of citizens to “stand their ground,” saying “all persons, regardless of citizenship status, have a right to feel safe and secure in our state.

“To that end, all persons who are conducting themselves in a lawful manner have a fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to be,” the report said.

The task force also recommends that the legislature further examine the definition of unlawful activity and specifically define applicable conduct in an effort to ensure that a uniform standard is applied to everyone, regardless of citizenship status, by law enforcement and the judicial system.

The group also recommended that police, as well as prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges provide increased training to citizens, community leaders, and other groups to ensure the rules are applied using the same standard across the state. The task force also recommends that legislators set uniform rules governing what constitutes a neighborhood watch group and establish laws that limit the activity of those groups to observing activity and reporting potential criminal activity to law enforcement.

Finally, the group is recommending that legislators determine whether individuals who use force to defend themselves are immune from future civil litigation if innocent third parties are killed or injured during an incident.

The task force worked with the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law to compile and analyze data in connection with the use of force in self-defense cases in the state.

However, the task force could not reach a conclusion as to whether race, ethnicity, and gender were factors in the use of force in self-defense situations. Because that portion was inconclusive, the group is recommending additional study that would compare Florida’s statistics with other states. The task force’s proposal calls for a formal study on the issue to be issued by 2015 and updated periodically.

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