It’s been almost four weeks since Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager carrying a bag of Skittles and an iced tea, was shot to death in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman, a white and Hispanic neighborhood crime watch volunteer armed with a nine millimeter shotgun.
Local prosecutors have not arrested Zimmerman, although the case is now being investigated by the Department of Justice and a Florida state attorney.
How can this be? Why has there been no arrest when no one is contesting that Zimmerman was the murderer?
Stand Your Ground Law Means It’s OK To Use Deadly Force
Cue Florida’s self-defense law. In 2005, Florida became the first state to explicitly expand a person’s right to use deadly force for self-defense.
From Mother Jones:
Florida makes it easy to plead self-defense in a killing. Under then-Gov. Jeb Bush, the state in 2005 passed a broad “stand your ground” law, which allows Florida residents to use deadly force against a threat without attempting to back down from the situation.
According to Mother Jones, Florida courts have found that under the ‘Stand Your Ground’ statute, a “defendant’s only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable” while “the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense.”
In other words, Florida’s self-defense law grants immunity to people who act to protect themselves if they have a reasonable fear they will be killed or seriously injured. And once self-defense is invoked, the burden is on the prosecution to disprove the claim.
You read that right.
“Stand Your Ground is a law that has really created a Wild West type environment in Florida,” said Brian Tannebaum, a criminal defense lawyer in Florida, told The New York Times. “It allows people to kill people outside of their homes, if they are in reasonable fear for their lives. It’s a very low standard.”
24 States Have Sweeping Stand Your Ground Laws
From Pro Publica:
Most states have long allowed the use of reasonable force, sometimes including deadly force, to protect oneself inside one’s home — the so-called Castle Doctrine. Outside the home, people generally still have a “duty to retreat” from an attacker, if possible, to avoid confrontation. In other words, if you can get away and you shoot anyway, you can be prosecuted. In Florida, there is no duty to retreat. You can “stand your ground” outside your home, too.
Florida is not alone. Twenty-three other states now allow people to stand their ground. Most of these laws were passed after Florida’s. (A few states never had a duty to retreat to begin with.)
Click here to see a list of the states with laws mirroring the one in Florida, where there’s no duty to retreat in public places and where, in most cases, self-defense claims have some degree of immunity in court. (The specifics of what kind of immunity, and when the burden of proof lies on the prosecution, vary from state to state.)
These 24 states make it easy to use self-defense as a claim. Using the “Stand Your Ground” law, anyone can take a shot at another person, claiming that it was in self-defense. And that’s exactly what’s happening in the Trayvon Martin case now.
If you believe that “Stand Your Ground” laws are wrong, please sign our petition, asking Florida legislators to get rid of this outrageous law.
And thank you.
Photo Credit: werthmedia