Florida legalizes 'warning shots' in self-defense

[JURIST] Florida Governor Rick Scott [official website] on Friday signed into law House Bill 89 of 2014 [House Bill history], legalizing the threat of force [text, PDF] in circumstances where actual force would be permitted as self-defense. The bill is commonly known as the "warning shot law" and was raised in response to the 2012 conviction of Marissa Alexander [AP Report]. Alexander fired a warning shot into a wall when threatened by her husband; no one was injured. Despite her self-defense claims, the court was bound by the minimum sentence of 20 years in jail for assault with a deadly weapon. Public outrage ensued in light of media coverage surrounding the controversial "stand your ground" law [JURIST news archive] and the acquittal of George Zimmerman [JURIST forum] in the Trayvon Martin case [JURIST op-ed] and conviction of Alexander despite allegations of domestic abuse.

This is the latest development of state investigations into "stand your ground" laws. In June 2012 Florida created a commission to review such self-defense laws [JURIST report], and HP 89 is intended to fill statutory gaps that create injustice for people like Alexander. 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 themselves to be threatened or in 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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