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Chris Smith's Independent 'Stand Your Ground' Review Committee Recommendations Revisions, Not Repeal

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An independent review panel formed to examine Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law released its recommendations Monday in a 21-page report, citing "overwhelming documentation of the law’s use, and more importantly, its abuse" while calling for a strict revision that would have sent George Zimmerman directly into custody.

Chris Smith, a democratic state senator from Fort Lauderdale, created the task force to address the state's notorious self-defense law after becoming frustrated by Governor Rick Scott's slow response in the Trayvon Martin case.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot and killed Martin, an unarmed Miami Gardens teen, in a gated Sanford neighborhood on February 26.

Although Zimmerman reportedly pursued the unarmed teen several blocks, he was not arrested, claiming self-defense under the Stand Your Ground law.

In early April, Smith gathered a panel of prosecutors, defense attorneys, police chiefs, and law professors to critically examine the 2005 law, which ambiguously permits citizens to use lethal force anywhere they are legally allowed to be to prevent "death or great bodily harm."

"Stand Your Ground empowers people to maybe think we can decrease the value of human life," state attorney Michael Satz said at a task force meeting. "We have to stop being John Wayne and start caring about other people."

Instead of recommending a repeal of Stand Your Ground entirely, however, Smith and his task force recommend allowing police to charge someone if the victim was unarmed or was in the process of fleeing -- a scenario that would have put Zimmerman directly in custody after the February 26 shooting.

Their Stand Your Ground revisions also require that such cases be reviewed for "reasonableness" by a grand jury instead of one state attorney, as the law requires now.

And to further keep tabs on whether the law is being abused as a "shield of immunity" for defendants who were actually aggressors, Smith and his panel propose keeping extensive records of Stand Your Ground claims and outcomes.

In the report, Smith and the panel state their ultimate goal is to prevent a "system tantamount to lawlessness, where any person can, within a matter of seconds, render himself investigator, judge, jury and executioner, all in one."

Since Smith's task force initially met, Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder and remains in hiding after posting bail.

Eight days after Zimmerman's court appearance, Gov. Scott formed an official Stand Your Ground task force, which meets for the first time on Tuesday.

Although Smith had hoped to send his recommendations to Scott's panel, a governor spokesperson said it was not the place for "public comment." Smith said he would sponsor a bill in the Florida Legislature in 2013 to see that his group's recommendations get proper consideration.

For the full report, which includes revision recommendations, task force members' biographies, and recent Stand Your Ground cases in Florida, click here.

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