In the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s killing, Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law has become the center of national debate and scrutiny. But what exactly does the law mean and what is its purpose?
The woman behind the law is Marion Hammer, former president of the NRA and now a lobbyist. “I heard somebody say one time we don’t shoot to kill, we shoot to live,” Hammer, now 72 saidin an interview with WLRN. “And that’s what it’s all about, being able to protect yourself when you’re under threat of death or great bodily harm.” After her tireless efforts, the piece of legislation was signed in 2005 by Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
The law allows the justifiable use of force in self defense. It expands beyond one’s place of residence or vehicle to anywhere a defender is in his/her legal right to be, many times regardless if the defender placed him/herself in the situation of confrontation.
For example, in 2008, Charles Podany noticed a truck driving erratically down a street where his children played in their house’s yard. Podany took a shotgun and rode his bicycle to the house where the truck was parked to get a license number. He was confronted by a larger and younger 24-year-old Casey Landes who attacked and overpowered him. Podany fired his shotgun and killed Landes instantly. The judge ruled that Podany was in a place he had a legal right to be, feared for his life, and defended himself with a gun he had a legal right to carry.
According to the way the law has been argued in court, it doesn’t matter if the defender initiates contact with his/her aggressor, as Podany did by riding his bike to the speeder’s location with a shotgun. “The law has protected people who have pursued another, initiated a confrontation and then used deadly force to defend themselves,” writes journalist Ben Montgomery from the Tampa Bay Times. As in the case of the Trayvon Martin, it is irrelevant that Zimmerman pursued Martin and confronted him. Since he claimed that their alleged physical scuffle posed a direct and immediate danger to Zimmerman’s life, Zimmerman had a legal right to protect himself with deadly force, even if pursing an aggressor seems counter-intuitive in an argument for self-defense.
Here is another situation where the ‘stand your ground’ law was invoked: A man whose car was being burglarized exited his apartment with a knife and chased the thief down the street. When the thief flung his bag of stolen car stereos at him, the defendant blocked the attack with his left hand, and stabbed the thief with his right.
But lawmakers are at odds with how much pursuing a defender invoking ‘stand your ground’ is allowed to have done before claiming self-defense. “There’s nothing in the statute that provides for any kind of aggressive action in terms of pursue and confront,” says Dennis Baxley, a Republican who helped write the law. Steven Romine, however, a Tampa Bay lawyer who has invoked ‘stand your ground’ successfully, said, “If you’re doing something legal, no matter what the act is, and you’re attacked, it’s in that moment that you have a right to stand your ground.”
The most crucial part of a ‘stand your ground’ defense is the 60 seconds just prior to the deadly attack.
State prosecutor Angela Corey is still under deliberation as to whether to prosecute George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin.