Fla. Proposal Would Limit Access to 'Stand Your Ground' Records

Tuesday, 25 Mar 2014 09:13 AM

By Melanie Batley

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An amendment has been added to new legislation on Florida's "stand your ground" law that would significantly limit public access to court records in self-defense cases.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, GOP state Rep. Matt Gaetz filed an amendment to allow people found to have used justifiable force in a "stand your ground" hearing to apply to have all court records related to their case expunged and made unavailable to the general public.

"The point is to make sure that someone who appropriately uses the 'stand your ground' defense doesn't have their life ruined by the use of that defense," Gaetz told the Times.

The NRA-backed bill to which the amendment is attached extends "stand your ground" immunity to those who fire warning shots during a confrontation. It passed easily in the House on March 19, but would need to pass a full Senate vote, possibly this week, to become law, according to the Times.

Florida's "stand your ground" law has repeatedly made national headlines because of its role in the deaths of teenagers Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.

Gaetz has been a vocal advocate of the law, and after hearings were announced in the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, he vowed not to change "one damn comma" in the law, the Times reported.

The proposed amendment to the controversial 2005 law has sparked concern among journalists who say that loss of access to public records could have a damaging impact to the public interest.

Editors of the Miami Herald and Florida Times-Union have opposed the amendment, according to Media Matters, as have Tampa Bay Times staff who worked on an investigation in 2012 of 200 cases, including some that would not have been available had the amendment been in place.

"Closing records and putting controversial cases that involve violence into the dark is a bad idea, it is against democracy," said Neil Brown, vice president and editor of the Times, according to Media Matters.

The Times investigation had concluded that the law was being applied unevenly.

The NRA, however, has expressed support for the amendment, saying it is a way of protecting people who have legally defended themselves.

"It's overreach on the media's part to think they need to know everything about everybody's life," Marion Hammer, a former NRA national president who crafted the proposal that would become "stand your ground," told the Miami Herald.

"The media want to know this so they can create news. Privacy is an important thing in America. When people are wronged it should be repaired, and it shouldn't be anybody's business."

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