Does it sometimes seem that as a society we’ve given up? That we’ve given up on the idea of the law, due process, and justice? Given in to fear and anger, and decided to institutionalize vigilante justice? The state of Florida seems to have abdicated its authority and bestowed upon its citizenry the right to prosecute and execute. They even gave this legislation a courageous sounding title: “Stand Your Ground.”
Passed in 2005, the law gives the right to use deadly force when confronted with the threat of violence. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fully define “threat of violence,” but it has tripled justifiable homicides in Florida since its passage. Last year, twice a week there was a new “justifiable” homicide, justified by the statement of the living member of the altercation holding the weapon. This law “grants immunity from prosecution or arrest to suspects who successfully invoke the ‘stand your ground’ claim.” (Listen to NPR story) The law was even fine-tuned to allow immunity in civil suits.
Have we murdered common sense?
Most of us learned of the Stand Your Ground law due to the national attention of the Trayvon Martin case, where his assailant didn’t so much ‘stand his ground’ as stalk and shoot the teenaged boy who was armed with only a cell phone and a bag of Skittles.
Here are some other killings defended by the Stand Your Ground law:
- Reynaldo Munoz was killed by a shotgun-wielding 14 year-old Jack Davis and his mother Yasmin, who stated Munoz was stealing their jet ski. Miami New Times
- Greyston Garcia chased down a unarmed man suspected of trying to steal his truck radio and stabbed him to death. Miami Herald
What do any of these cases have to do with self-defense?
As a criminal defense attorney, I propose that it is important to have strong self-defense laws that allow individuals who are forced to commit violent acts to defend themselves the opportunity to defend themselves in court. But those laws go too far when they allow needless violence to be willfully perpetrated and then defended retroactively as self defense. It’s time to take a look at these laws, and to find ways to send a message to folks who might be emboldened to exploit them for their own aggressively violent agendas.
It’s time to draw a bright line that killing Trayvon Martin is not self defense – never was, never will be, never should be. And if a law could ever be interpreted by anyone to say otherwise, that law most certainly needs to be changed.