George Zimmerman: 'Stand Your Ground' Authors Say Trayvon Martin's Shooter Has 'No Protection' Under Law
Former Sen. Durell Peaden and Rep. Dennis Baxley, two of the authors of Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, are arguing that George Zimmerman lost the right to claim protection by way of self-defense the moment he went after Trayvon Martin, and insist that the legislation itself isn't to blame for Martin's death.
"He has no protection under my law," Peaden told the Miami Herald.
Duty To Retreat Vs. Stand Your Ground
Florida's Stand Your Ground law, derisively called the "shoot first" law by critics, was passed in 2005 under Gov. Jeb Bush.
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The law permits state residents to "meet force with force," and gives the defendant the right to fight back 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."
Unlike other self-defense laws, however, usually called Castle doctrines and involving home invasion, Stand Your Ground dismisses the idea that the defender has a "duty to retreat" from a dangerous and escalating situation, stating that he or she has no obligation to abandon a place where the defender has a right to be or to give ground to an assailant.
This law, like roughly 20 others passed in states across the nation, means that residents can argue they acted in self-defense by refusing to give ground almost anywhere, from their front porch to a public street corner.
Martin's Death Puts Spotlight On Controversial Law
Over the past week, increasing focus on the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by 28-year-old George Zimmerman has cast Stand Your Ground in its most controversial light ever.
Zimmerman, who admitted to police that he had shot the unarmed teen on Feb. 26, was released without being charged with a crime after claiming that he killed Martin in self-defense.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain for the gated community in which he lived, could conceivably argue that Martin instigated a physical altercation, and that under Stand Your Ground, he had the right to defend himself through the use of force, even if the results were fatal for his alleged attacker.
"My gut reaction was this was an accidental discharge," Philip Sweeting told PatDollard.com. Sweeting is a retired deputy police chief for the Boca Raton Police Department and a law enforcement consultant.
"If you put yourself in the shooter's position and you're wrestling with this kid and a gun goes off, what are you going to tell the cops?"
Stand Your Ground Authors: 'He Lost His Defense'
But Stand Your Ground is supposed to protect both ways.
If Zimmerman had the right to defend himself when he felt he was threatened by Martin, then doesn't surely an unarmed teenager have a far greater right to respond to the same "reasonable fear" when being followed by a man in an SUV carrying an automatic weapon?
That's the conclusion former Sen. Peaden has come to, especially after the release of several 911 recordings that indicate Zimmerman pursued Martin despite the dispatcher telling him to wait. He argues that Stand Your Ground is about the right to defend oneself when in imminent danger, something he doesn't see anywhere in the case.
"The guy lost his defense right then," Peaden told the Miami Herald. "When he said 'I'm following him,' he lost his defense."
Rep. Baxley agrees with Peaden, saying the law wasn't meant to aid those who feel "like they have the authority to pursue and confront people."
"That is aggravating an incident right there," he concluded, arguing that Zimmerman's actions were separate from and unprotected by Stand Your Ground and similar legislation.
Justifiable Homicide Deaths On Rise
For many looking back on the bill after Martin's death, however, especially in a case that has become increasingly raically charged, Stand Your Ground doesn't appear nearly as clear-cut as Baxley and Peaden suggest.
Daniel Vice, senior attorney with the gun-control group Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, argues that the controversial legislation, combined with Florida laws that allow residents to carry loaded weapons in public, make charging those who "shoot first" far harder to prosecute, protecting the aggressors rather than the victim and regardless of the actual circumstances of the case.
"All you have to say is that you reasonably believed you were threatened, and the only person who can dispute that is the person you have just killed," Vice told PatDollard.com.
"It's very hard to bring these types of cases [to court] because the 'Shoot First' law combined with public carrying of loaded guns protects people who engage someone and shoot to kill."
According to a 2010 review by the St. Petersburg Times, meanwhile, reports of justifiable homicide in the state of Florida have tripled since the law came into effect, with an average of 33 deaths a year when once the number was 12.
Since its inception five years go, it has been invoked in at least 93 cases with 65 deaths, and has excused violence in neighborhood arguments, incidents of road rage, bar fights and even a gang shootout where a man sprayed a car with a gang member inside with 14 bullets back in 2006.
High-profile attorney Barry Cohen, meanwhile, told WTSP there was "no evidence, no evidence whatsoever, of self-defense" to protect Zimmerman.
"Even if this young boy struck this man, assuming the worst -- which I don't believe in this case is factually supported at all -- that still should not give this man the right to take this young boy's life."
Does Stand Your Ground Promote 'Vigilante Justice'?
During the town hall meeting in Sanford, Fla., Rep. Geraldine Thompson swore that repealing Stand Your Ground would be a top priority for the state legislature's black caucus.
"If vigilante justice becomes the norm, will visitors feel comfortable coming to our state?" she asked.
Despite growing criticism over Stand Your Ground in the aftermath of Martin's death, however, both Baxley and Peaden feel there is no need for the law itself to be re-examined, arguing instead for an amendment to limit the scope of self-defense for those involved in neighborhood watches or involved, as Zimmerman appears to have been, in vigilantism.
"If you want to pass something, pass something that limits their ability to pursue and confront people," Baxley was quoted by CBS.
"It's about crime watch. What are the limitations of crime watch? Are you allowed to jump out and follow people and confront them? What do you think is going to happen? That's where it starts."
Richard Hornsby, a criminal defense attorney in Orlando, agrees, and says he thinks the grand jury now involved in the case will indict Zimmerman for manslaughter.
"This case isn't even a close call to me. This is a case of a guy trying to be a vigilante," Hornsby said. "It wasn't like he was trying to avoid trouble. He brought a firearm to a fistfight."
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