Among the more controversial laws passed in the 21st century by the Florida legislature is the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law. What follows is a discussion of Florida’s stand your ground law and what you need to know if you are in a situation where this self-defense law may be important.
Duty To Retreat
In many states, an individual who is under attack by another has a legal duty to retreat from the threat as much as reasonably possible before he or she is legally permitted to respond with deadly force. Roughly half of the states in the US have some form of a duty to retreat on their books.
Stand Your Ground
The idea of “stand your ground” laws is that one should not be forced to retreat from a deadly threat before responding with deadly force. Stand your ground laws are intended to remove uncertainty as to when and how far one must retreat and to make it more difficult to prosecute those who acted in good faith when they defended themselves with deadly force.
The Castle Doctrine is similar to Stand Your Ground and it is often confused with it. However, there are important distinctions between the two. The rationale behind the Castle Doctrine is that one should be able to be safe in his own home, hence the reference to the phrase “a man’s home is his castle.” Some jurisdictions that recognize the Castle Doctrine also include one’s place of business and, in some cases, one’s own vehicle.
As a general rule, one is legally allowed to use deadly force in his or her own home without any duty to retreat in jurisdictions that recognize the Castle Doctrine.
Criticism Of Stand Your Ground
Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and elsewhere have come under intense criticism over the years. Critics have often made the case that Stand Your Ground laws tend to promote a “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude among armed individuals in states that have such laws. As a result, the number of needless deaths and injuries in Stand Your Ground states are more frequent than in those without such laws.
State of Florida v. George Zimmerman
Certainly the most notable case involving Florida’s Stand Your Ground law arose from the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in February, 2012. According to the most accepted version of events, Martin was walking home from a convenience store in Sanford at around 7 PM when George Zimmerman, a resident of a local housing community, reported him as a suspicious individual. Stating that the complex had recently experienced a spike in crime, Zimmerman reported to police that Martin looked “suspicious” and appeared to be concealing a firearm in his waistband. Despite being instructed otherwise by the police dispatcher over the phone, Zimmerman confronted Martin and ultimately fatally shot him after a brief struggle.
Zimmerman was later charged with second-degree murder by the state of Florida, and his defense team asserted his innocence under the Stand Your Ground laws. After a two-and-a-half-week trial, Zimmerman was acquitted of the charge.