As you have undoubtedly heard in the news, 17 year old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch crime captain in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman claims that Trayvon Martin attacked him, forcing him to protect himself by shooting the teenager. If he is eventually charged, and we at the South Florida Criminal Defense Firm of Berman & Tsombanakis LLC believe he eventually will be, Zimmerman may try to use Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law as his defense. As more information comes to light though, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law may not even apply given the facts of this case. This controversial law has drawn a great deal of criticism throughout the nation though it is somewhat misunderstood by the public. A full reading and review of the actual text of the law and the other laws it cites to (Florida Statutes 776.012, 776.013,776.031) is needed to fully understand it.
Essentially, the law is designed to protect those from criminal prosecution when they are acting in self-defense. It further expands on the self-defense laws by eliminating the duty to retreat in some situations. Under Florida’s stand your ground law, a person is immune from criminal prosecution when using justifiable force to protect oneself from another persons use of imminent unlawful force against them. The key here is that the force used to defend yourself must be “justifiable”. This means that the force must be reasonable in relation to the threatened force. For instance, if someone attacks you with non-deadly force, such as their fists, you may not defend yourself with deadly force. On the other hand, if someone threatens you with deadly force or great bodily harm, such as a gun or a knife, you can use deadly force in response if you believe it is “reasonably” necessary. However, this law does not allow someone to act in self-defense to a law enforcement officer.
Another situation in which “stand your ground” is applied is in someone’s home or car. A person is presumed to have a reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm if there is an unlawful and forceful entering of a home or occupied vehicle. In this situation a person may use defensive force to protect themselves from the unlawful and forceful entry.
Some states require someone threatened with force to try and retreat from the threat. Generally in these states, a person may only use justifiable force if they try and retreat first and cannot do so safely. Florida is no longer one of these states. In Florida, you are legally permitted to “stand your ground”. Twenty-four other states have “stand your ground” laws; of those, ten states have a law identical to Florida’s.
The immense media attention that this case has received from around the nation is sure to garner discussion in the Florida Legislature about whether to change or do away with the current “stand your ground” law. In fact, a Fort Lauderdale church recent held a forum on the “Stand Your Ground’ law. It featured a panel of lawyers and state lawmakers who were instrumental in forming Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground statute.
For more information on “stand your ground”, see the Broward County Criminal Defense Law Firm of Berman & Tsombanakis LLC blog posting entitled “A Stand Your Ground Success Story”.