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'Stand Your Ground' Task Force Says Florida Law Is Mostly Fine As-Is

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Florida Governor Rick Scott with Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll, who chaired his
Florida Governor Rick Scott with Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll, who chaired his "Stand Your Ground" task force. (AP photo)

The findings of a state committee tasked to investigate Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law may be as polarizing as the statute itself.

The 19-member Citizen Safety and Protection Task Force released a final report Tuesday recommending only minor changes to the law, which expanded the state's self-defense laws by removing a person's duty to retreat from an assailant and reaffirmed the use of deadly force in any place a law-abiding person has a right to be.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott created the panel in April, weeks after the Sanford killing of unarmed 17-year-old Miami Gardens resident Trayvon Martin. Martin, who is black, was shot by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, with whom a confrontation ensued after Zimmerman spotted Martin walking in his father's girlfriend's gated neighborhood.

A nationwide uproar ensued after the shooting when, citing the "Stand Your Ground" law, Sanford police went 45 days without arresting Zimmerman because he claims to have acted in self-defense. He is now awaiting trial on second-degree murder charges.

Following a six-month effort, the ad-hoc group reaffirmed the basic tenants of the law, but also recommended small changes including that the state expressly limit neighborhood watch volunteers to "observing, watching, and reporting."

It also recommended the Florida Legislature change the portion which grants immunity from "criminal prosecution" to anyone whose self-defense claims fit "Stand Your Ground," saying law enforcement should have the chance to investigate such incidents.

"I think, from a law enforcement perspective the question is, what does 'criminal prosecution' mean?" task force member Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley told the Palm Beach Post. "Does it mean that we can or cannot detain someone? I believe that some law enforcement agencies believe that they are hindered in their investigation."

While many in the executive-led effort were satisfied with the findings, some of the law's most vocal critics voiced their displeasure at the committee's perceived lack of action.

"I didn't expect anything. I really truly didn't expect anything," Sen. Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens) told the Herald/Times Bureau. "It was a Republican-dominated commission, and it was full of people who supported 'Stand Your Ground' to begin with.

Benjamin Crump, the Tallahassee attorney who represents Martin's parents, again argued the law is too vague.

“In Trayvon Martin’s case, we all believe it’s asinine that you can pursue someone, that you can be the aggressor and then shoot an unarmed kid and claim you were standing your ground,” Crump told the Post. “Until we fix this law, there are going to be a lot of asinine claims of 'Stand Your Ground' when there’s another Trayvon Martin.”

The law was first signed by in 2005 during the Jeb Bush administration, following an extensive lobbying effort by the National Rifle Association. It was also backed heavily by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative policy group that has pushed cookie-cutter legislation, including Stand Your Ground-style laws, in multiple states.

Clarification: Language has been changed to reflect that Floridians already had the right to exercise self-defense in public prior to Stand Your Ground.

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