It’s time to clear the air. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law had nothing to do with the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman incident. Here are the facts about justifiable use of force in Florida.
First, Florida has been a “Castle Doctrine” state for about seven years. Adopted from the English home defense law and based on the principle that a man’s home is his castle the Florida legislature passed a very broad statute regarding home protection. In sum and substance, Section 766.013; Home protection: use of deadly force; presumption of fear or death or great bodily harm states “that a person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if the person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or an occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle.”
In other words, home invaders or car-jackers beware. Clearly, the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman confrontation did not involve the “Castle Doctrine.”
Second. Section 776.012 (1) states in part that in a public place, deadly force is allowed only if the crime victim “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.” This definition of justification for the use of deadly force is pretty consistent with the language in other states. I spent over 20 years as a cop in New York and it is virtually identical to the NYS Penal Law regarding justification for the use of deadly force. Citizens can defend themselves with deadly force when faced with an imminent deadly threat. Period.
So what about the other so-called controversial law down here in Paradise called “Stand Your Ground?” Well, you’d be hard pressed to find a specific statute in Chapter 776 with that heading. Why? Because it doesn’t exist by that name. The phrase "stand your ground" actually appears in a similar form way down in Section 776.013 (3), “a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
Here’s the read deal on “Stand Your Ground.” Florida didn’t invent it, although they used the concept when they revised Chapter 776, Justification for Use of Force in October 2005. But that phrase has been in existence for over a century. The first instance I can find where it was actually used was in a U.S. Supreme Court case called Beard v. United States, 158 US 550 back in 1895. And it has been used several times since then, too. So when all those talking head TV experts wax philosophical about throwing out Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law or feel that crime victims who face a threat of death or great bodily harm have a duty to retreat before defending themselves with reactive deadly force, they’re really talking about throwing out over 100 years of established law.
So how does all this relate to George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin? Well, it boils down to whose version you believe. If you believe that George Zimmerman in the dark of night deliberately shot down Trayvon Martin in cold blood without any provocation whatsoever, then no self-defense law in any state is going to help clear him. However, if you believe that Trayvon Martin attacked George Zimmerman in a public place where Zimmerman had a legal right to be, knocked him to the ground, got on top of him, broke his nose with repeated fisted punches to the face and smashed his head into the concrete sidewalk, Zimmerman’s use of deadly force appears justified.
Should this second version turn out to be the correct one, since George Zimmerman had no ability to retreat, the retreat language in Section 776.013 (3) really becomes irrelevant and Section 776.012 (1) would be the deciding factor on the reasonableness of his actions. As long as George Zimmerman reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself, or to prevent the commission of an imminent forcible felony, his use of force would be justified.
Chapter 776, Florida Statutes; www.leg.state.fl.us
Beard v. United States, 158 US 550 (1895)