The Stand Your Ground law (specifically the version used in Florida, location of the Zimmerman trial) has been talked about and referred to a lot in recent weeks, and especially after George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict. The problem, though, is that many news outlets have not adequately defined and described the law. In order to fully understand the events that led up to the trial, the crime itself, and the verdict, one needs to understand that law. So, this post is to help explain the law for readers.
According to usnews.nbcnews.com:
Normally, a citizen has a duty to retreat when confronted with what they perceive to be deadly force. The Stand Your Ground doctrine mostly removes that, meaning citizens who feel threatened are no longer required to try to quell a situation first before having the right to use deadly force in self-defense.
There are three parts to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law:
- It states that a person is presumed to have reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm when using defensive force if an intruder has broken into his or her home or vehicle and is justified in using force.
- It states that a person does not have a duty to retreat if he or she believes death or bodily harm is imminent.
- It provides immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.
The parts of the law that directly apply to the Zimmerman case are the 2nd and 3rd. In the time period immediately after Trayvon Martin’s death, Zimmerman was initially not charged with a crime because he was deemed, based on his description of the altercation and shooting of Trayvon, to be innocent of any crime. He claimed that he felt so threatened by Trayvon (although he is older and much larger in stature than Trayvon) that, after trying to fight back, he simply had to shoot Trayvon to death. Under the 2nd part of the Stand Your Ground law, this is permissible. Therefore, based on the 3rd part of the law, he was immune to a criminal prosecution of Trayvon’s death. He was only charged with a crime after the outpouring of public frustration and anger over the law.
It is very interesting to note that while Zimmerman’s defense team never used Stand Your Ground as a criminal defense in court, the judge instructed the jury to keep the law in mind anyway, causing at least one juror’s decision to be swayed by it. If that doesn’t constitute injustice, I don’t know what does.
Also important to note: this law was enacted with copious amounts of support from the National Rifle Association under a Republican-dominated state legislature in Florida. Florida was the first state to enact the law in 2005. In all, 22 states have since enacted this kind of legislation, according to CNN.com.
In any event, this “shoot first, ask questions later” law is unjust and should be removed from the books immediately.