Florida begins investigation into self-defense law

[JURIST] The Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection [official website] appointed by Florida Governor Rick Scott [official website] on Tuesday began its investigation into the state's stand your ground law [text]. The task force is holding its first public hearing Tuesday morning and parents of Trayvon Martin [BBC backgrounder; JURIST op-ed], a 17-year-old African American high school junior, will testify before the panel. The investigation begins after the US Commission on Civil Rights [official website] announced on Friday upon a 5-3 vote that it will investigate whether the "stand your ground" laws are applied based on race. The recent killing of Martin, who was shot by George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, in Sanford, Florida, sparked criticism and doubt of the law and its reasonableness. Police did not file charges against Zimmerman initially based on Florida's stand your ground law which allows an individual to use deadly force given fear of danger or serious harm is present. The law does not require the threatened individual to retreat. Commissioner Michael Yaki [official profile] proposed the investigation by pointing out that there is virtually no data on how the law is applied in practice.

More than half of the states in the US have enacted a variation of the stand your ground law. The law does not require someone who reasonably believes to be threatened or immediate danger to retreat but rather allows the use of deadly force. The law has been criticized for its vagueness and potential for bias-based use against minorities. For example, Rev. Markel Hutchins, a civil rights activist, filed suit [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia [official website] challenging the state's "No Duty to Retreat" law [text, PDF] because it is too vague and can lead to misuse of killing minority members. Hutchins also declared that his challenge derived from the recent killing of Martin. Georgia enacted its "No Duty to Retreat" law in 2006 while Florida enacted [JURIST reports] its "Stand Your Ground" law in 2005.

 

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