Lawmakers Vote to Expand Stand Your Ground Law in Florida

News stories involving Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law have been making headlines across the nation, which can likely be attributed to the Dunn and Zimmerman cases. The two recent criminal trials both involved the shooting of African-American teenagers and each defendant’s invocation of self-defense as the result of a threat that made them fear for their life. Both defendants were acquitted of murder.

The George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case is just one reason for reforms to Stand You Ground law in Florida
George M Zimmerman in 2012

The results of each trial and the facts surrounding each case are highly controversial and have spurred much debate over the Florida law. In light of the more recent Dunn ruling, many speculated that the law may be overturned. However, as a recent article reported, lawmakers in Florida took the opposite approach.

The Alexander Case and Stand Your Ground

A group of bipartisan Florida lawmakers passed a bill to expand the stand your ground law in the state. Although the action came less than one week after the jury deadlock on the murder charge in the Dunn case and just seven months after Zimmerman’s acquittal, it was outrage over another criminal case that, somewhat ironically, likely caused the recent change to the stand your ground law.

Marisa Alexander is a 32-year-old black woman who was convicted and sentenced to 20 years of incarceration for firing a warning shot at her abusive, estranged husband who was threatening her at the time of the incident. Some civil rights activists argue that her conviction, especially in comparison to the outcomes of the Dunn and Zimmerman cases, is proof that the self-defense law in Florida does not act to secure justice for African-Americans. Activists said the case was proof that the law was applied in a racist way.

A Broader Stand Your Ground Law

The bill passed by Florida lawmakers that will expand the self-defense statute had bipartisan support. It amends stand your ground to include the threat of force, and not just the use of force itself. It is known as the threatened use of force bill, and likely would have prevented the result in Alexander’s case.

The amendment is an attempt to close a type of loophole perceived by some prosecutors. The previous version of the stand your ground law would have protected someone acting in self defense who shoots and hits their target more than someone who shoots and misses. The stand your ground law protected the use of force in self defense, but not the threat to use force in self-defense. Now, with the amendment, a person who threatens to shoot an attacker will be equally protected under the law. In addition, those who threaten to use force in self-defense will be exempt from facing mandatory minimum sentences.

Hiring a Knowledgeable Attorney

While the idea of broadening stand your ground laws in light of recent events seems counter-intuitive at first glance, the background of the amendment and its effect may do more to discourage violence and unwanted outcomes. If the bill’s intent is applied as suggested, those who act in self-defense would be protected in actions that fall short of violence or harming their attacker. However, the intention behind legislation does not always play out properly in the real world.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Florida, an experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you of your rights. Contact the lawyers at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A. today and schedule a consultation.