Task Force Backs Stand Your Ground Law

By: Jim Turner | Posted: February 22, 2013 12:45 PM
R.B. Holmes, Jr., Jennifer Carroll, and Rick Scott

From left: Vice Chair of the Task Force on Citizens Safety and Protection R.B. Holmes, Jr., Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, and Gov. Rick Scott

The state’s Stand Your Ground law is in need of some minor tweaks, but is otherwise warranted for the public’s right to feel safe, according to the task force charged by Gov. Rick Scott to look into the self-defense measure after a Miami teen was killed in Sanford a year ago.

The Task Force on Citizens Safety and Protection concurred with the “core belief” in the 2005 self-defense law Florida State Statute 776 that is better known as Stand Your Ground, while saying the term “unlawful activity” needs to be better defined, increased training is needed to educate law enforcement on the law, and state legislators should review standards for neighborhood watch groups.

“This diverse task force listened to the people of Florida and provided a platform for different viewpoints to be shared on the important issue of citizen safety,” Scott stated in a release.

“I met with Trayvon Martin’s parents and our hearts go out to the entire family for their loss, especially as we approach the anniversary of his death. We look forward to reviewing this final report as we approach the beginning of the legislative session.”

A number of task force members also gave separate recommendations.

Vice Chair R.B. Holmes Jr. suggested that clarification is needed for the definition of self-defense. “Shooting a person in the back, as he is trying to escape, is, by definition, not self-defense,” Holmes wrote.

Review the report here.

The law has been highly criticized since it was approved by the Legislature, but the spark for the task force, with Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll as its chair, was the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting of Martin, 17, in Sanford.

George Zimmerman, who has been charged with second-degree murder, was a neighborhood watch volunteer.

The murky case, heightened by inflammatory commentary and some questionable early reporting, remains in pre-trial mode.

Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, who put together his own task force on the issues, said he expected there to be few “earth-shattering” findings.

“Anyone who looked at that data realistically would have come out with stronger recommendations, as my task force did, to revisit Stand Your Ground,” Smith told the News Service of Florida.

“Give people the ability to defend themselves but we need to revisit and not perpetuate this culture of violence that Stand Your Ground is doing."

Smith added that he intends to file amendments to a bill expected from Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, on the findings from the Task Force on Citizens Safety and Protection.

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Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, who has filed a bill, House Bill 123, that redefines the danger a person is confronted with to claim self-defense, expressed disappointment but not shock with the task force findings.

“I think the deck was stacked toward this outcome by the Task Force. I think the people of Florida deserved to hear a fair and balanced discussion, but I don’t think that’s what they got in this case,” Stafford stated in a release.

“It’s been said that law-abiding citizens have a right to carry their guns. Well, law-abiding citizens who don’t carry weapons also have a right to walk down the street and sit in their cars and not be assaulted by a person with a gun. I was hoping for a different outcome to today’s Task Force report. I just hope this law doesn’t cause more deaths.”

The task force’s recommendations: 

1. The task force concurs with the core belief that 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.

2. The task force recommends the Legislature examine the term “unlawful activity” as used in Chapter 776, Florida Statutes, and provide a statutory definition to provide clarity to all persons, regardless of citizenship status, and to law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the judiciary.

3. The task force recommends associations, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the judiciary increase training and education regarding self-defense laws to ensure uniform and fair application of Chapter 776, Florida Statutes, and other related criminal statutes.

4. The task force recommends the Legislature review applicable standards for recognized neighborhood watch groups, as defined in Section 30.60 and Section 166.0485, Florida Statutes, to define the role of neighborhood watch participants as limited to observing, watching, and reporting potential criminal activity to law enforcement. The participant’s purpose is not to pursue, confront, or provoke potential suspects.

5. The task force recommends the Legislature examine the definition of “criminal prosecution,” as defined in Section 776.032(1), Florida Statutes, to remove any ambiguity for law enforcement to fully complete their investigation.

6. The task force has considered the Florida Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Peterson v. State. The task force believes the pre-trial adversarial proceeding set out in that case is proper.

7. The task force recommends the Legislature consider whether the civil immunity provision should extend to innocent third-party victims

8. The task force recommends the Legislature consider funding further study of the correlation and causation to include variables such as race, ethnicity, gender, application and fairness of the law in regard to the expansion of self-defense laws in the state of Florida, including a statistical comparison with other states. The task force recommends any report be issued by 2015 with periodic updates.

9. The task force recommends the Legislature review Florida’s 10-20-Life law to eliminate any unintended consequences. 

More to come.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

Comments (5)

nancy Buck
8:13AM MAR 29TH 2013
Seniors ought to think twice before retiring here as apparently we will need an assault weapon in order to be safe. I wouLd rather have cold weather than put up with crazy loose cannons.
11:44AM FEB 23RD 2013
It does need so more work. I do not think that it will happen untill some raw criminal use's it against a police officer in plain clothes.... more than likely on a drug bust.
8:36PM FEB 22ND 2013
It's called a pre-determined, stacked deck . . . . blantantly apparent from the moment the Governor first assigned his own Lt. Governor to make sure it'd come out with the proper findings . . . . this was never meant to an independent look at the act . . . .

First, you take alot of time, hear alot of folks, wait for the fervor to die down, while you inform, you consult, you placate . . . . all forms of tokenism . . . it's classic . . . . no one should be surprised when this results in additional deaths in Florida . . . empowering open season to carry your guns and aggressively enforce Stand Your Ground . . . just like George Zimmerman . . . .

Consider just a FEW aspects of the Tampa Bay Times' recent analysis:

(1) Defendants claiming "stand your ground" are more likely to prevail if the victim killed is black.

(2) The number of cases is increasing, largely because defense attorneys are using "stand your ground" in ways state legislators never envisioned, including by a self-described vampire, against a marijuana arrest, for shooting a bear, and beating a dog.

(3) People often go free under "Stand Your Ground" in cases that seem to make a mockery of what lawmakers intended, including a man killing two unarmed people, shooting a man as he lay on the ground, and shooting victims in the back. In nearly a third of the cases the Times analyzed (over 200), defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim — and still went free.

(4) The law confuses judges and attorneys as similar cases can have opposite outcomes, even when the factual bases are essentially identical.

Yeah, the task force must be right . . . no changes are needed . . . at least not until it becomes your son or daughter that gets blown away . . . . . meanwhile, we'll remain a sad parody on late night shows . . . .

Pathetic . . .
John Paul Jones
3:37PM FEB 24TH 2013
I get it Frank. The Lt. Governor must be racist. You're so smart.
10:07AM FEB 26TH 2013
We understand you just don't get it . . . . I'm sure in your mind, this was "fair and balanced", just like Fox News . . .

Pathetic denial and once again, making red herring, misdirective truthiness . . . .

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