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Senate panel votes to clarify Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved several revisions to our “Stand Your Ground” law. Senate Bill 130 was passed by a bipartisan vote of 7 to 2 and can now forward in the Senate. So far, however, there is no companion bill in the House, although bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate that would repeal “Stand Your Ground” altogether.

As you may remember from discussions surrounding the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the Stand Your Ground law changed the rules for when people can claim self-defense to justify using force against others in Florida.

The part of the doctrine of self-defense that Stand Your Ground changed is called the “Castle doctrine” and was a legal duty to retreat before using deadly force. Traditionally, people who believed they were facing an imminent threat of serious injury or death have only been able to claim self-defense if they couldn’t safely retreat from the situation.

A number of lawmakers have been trying to reinstate the Castle doctrine in Florida law, largely in light of Zimmerman’s acquittal and the public outcry that followed it.

"Even if you think what Mr. Zimmerman did was legal, it's important to show that it wasn't appropriate," State Senator Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale told the Tampa Bay Times.

The current version of Senate Bill 130 would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to develop uniform training on the legal use of deadly force in self-defense for local law enforcement agencies to use when training neighborhood watch volunteers.

In addition, the bill clarifies that the aggressor in an altercation or someone involved in a forcible felony cannot use Stand Your Ground. They could still, however, claim self-defense if they themselves try to retreat but can’t reasonably do so.

Interestingly, changes were made to the part of the law providing immunity from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits for those who successfully use the Stand Your Ground defense. Notably, Senate Bill 130 makes clear that the immunity extends to personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits brought by the person against whom they used force or their surviving family members.

This proposal, however, may go nowhere. Although the House is holding hearings about changing Stand Your Ground, the chair of those hearings has said he doesn’t support changing “one damn comma” of the law.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Florida Senate Panel Approves 'Stand Your Ground' Revisions,” Amanda McCorquodale, Oct. 9, 2013

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