Tuesday, July 23, 2013

'Stand Your Ground' laws: Are they needed?

[caption id="attachment_19518" align="alignleft" width="300"]George Zimmerman shown after verdict George Zimmerman shown after verdict[/caption]

Leigh Martin---Like many people as a writer, pre- law student and person who believes in staying updated on social matters, I  have watched the George Zimmerman trial and wondered about Florida's "stand your ground" law.  Is this a good or bad piece of legislation?  How does it influence human behavior?  These are some of the issues and answers to the questions I discovered during my research.

First a little about the Florida law.  While some people believe President Barack Obama or Congress should act, they actually have little to do with the state laws that have been touted as a way for people to protect themselves from assailants, whether these assailants are on the streets or in a person's home.    Actually, the jury's instructions during the George Zimmerman trial was that Zimmerman had “no duty to retreat," citing the law on Stand Your Ground.

Chapter 76, is discussed by one of Florida's Senators, Chris Smith, that he outlines on his website Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if: (1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.  Other conditions are outlined and enumerated by Smith that are pertinent to the law of defending yourself and the conditions under which one may do so.

There are opposing sides on the condition of the "Stand Your Ground" laws, especially since the trial of George Zimmerman, who was found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin, referencing the law in his defense.

Jonathan Turley, a well-known attorney and commentator on national news stories relative to the law,  maintains that Obama's sharing of his personal experience gave good insight into the problems of race in America.  He went on to say that he believes Zimmerman was fixated on the topic of crime as opposed to the SYG law itself and declares the use of it at trial was the classic self-defense style often used in trials such as these.

With reference to the use of SYG at trial, Turley writes:  "The jury clearly found the evidence lacking, as I pointed out in an earlier column. That does not mean that they were carrying out a racial agenda or blind to the historic mistreatment of blacks in America. They could have had a good-faith reason for reasonable doubt of what occurred at this place at that time."

A Mother Jones writer, however, believes the law was specifically what the jury was addressing when they made their decision to acquit.  Still the article seemed less to answer the question about whether or not SYG laws are needed and more on the trial of Zimmerman and the impact of the law specific to the case, whereas Turley asks us to pause and think about why the laws were instituted in the first place, so that people can protect themselves when police are not in the area at the time of an assault.

The controversies on the law are tinged with emotion, but the facts require reflection.  The states are finding the questions about the law more frequent after the trial of George Zimmerman.  Still the answers may come with the same arguments as the gun laws themselves, also different from one state to another.


Leigh Martin is a college junior, studying to enter law school, who is interested in how the laws are framed with respect to self defense and offered her observations as a free-lance writer.