A Florida Legislative Task Force commissioned by Gov. Rick Scott recommended changes to the “Stand Your Ground” law yesterday. (More)

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law has drawn widespread criticism in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting. Governor Rick Scott (R) commissioned a task force from the Florida Legislature to investigate the law and propose changes. Yesterday the task force unanimously recommended six changes:

  • Cases should be presented to a Grand Jury to allow for a cross section of Society to determine what a reasonable person would do in that case – While prosecutors already have this authority, the change would require a grand jury hearing in any homicide case where “Stand Your Ground” is raised.
  • Educate the public and law enforcement – This would not change the law, but the task force believe both the public and law enforcement “should understand when the use of deadly force (and other force) is lawful and when it is not” and be clear that “the law does not entitle a person to be a vigilante.”
  • Create a system to track self-defense claims in Florida – Self-defense claims are currently not recorded on state-wide databases, making it very difficult to determine how many people have raised “Stand Your Ground” defenses and how many were legitimate.
  • Amend the Imminent Requirement – Amend the statute to require that a person claiming self-defense “reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent [imminent] death or great bodily harm.” The imminence requirement exists in one section of the law, but not in another.
  • Change the Law’s Title – The law is presently titled “Use of Force in Defense of Others,” a situation covered by another law. The task force propose the title “Use of Force in Defense of Property.”
  • Allow Detaining – Amend Florida Statute 776.032 to delete “arrest and detention” from the definition of “criminal prosecution,” ensuring that persons claiming a “Stand Your Ground” defense can be arrested and detained during investigations.

The task force also offered five “consensus recommendations,” each with dissenting views included:

  • Make Presumption Rebuttable – This would make the “Stand Your Ground” defense inapplicable if the alleged attacker is unarmed or fleeing, or create a rebuttable presumption that the use of force was unreasonable if the alleged attacker is unarmed or fleeing, and provide concrete guidelines to direct judges in applying the “Stand Your Ground” provision. A dissenting member argued that these are findings of fact to be decided by judges.
  • Remove the Presumptions – This would remove the presumption of reasonable defense, or make that presumption rebuttable (see above). The task force consensus noted that an irrebuttable presumption of reasonable defense may be unconstitutional. Dissenting members rejected that argument while supporting a rebuttable presumption.
  • Eliminate the Presumption of Reasonable Fear – The task force consensus was that this provision “converts an issue of fact into an issue of law,” and the objective reasonableness of fear should be decided by a jury. Dissenting members argued that “reasonable” is a well-defined legal term and need not be changed.
  • Define Unlawful Activity – The “Stand Your Ground” defense does not apply if the person is engaged in “unlawful activity,” but the statute does not specify what that covers. The consensus would define that as any violation of Florida criminal law. Dissenting members argued this is obvious and unnecessary.
  • Clarify the Role of Provocation – Florida’s core self-defense law does not allow an initial aggressor to claim self-defense, but the “Stand Your Ground” provision does not specify that. Dissenting members argued that the core self-defense law principles also apply to “Stand Your Ground” defenses.

The task force also discussed repealing the “Stand Your Ground” law entirely, but did not recommend that change. The appendix lists several cases where “Stand Your Ground” was claimed in situations the task force believed inappropriate, including a long-standing dispute between neighbors that turned deadly.

While I favor a full repeal of “Stand Your Ground,” most of the task force proposals would improve the statute and might help prevent further tragedies lie the death of Trayvon Martin.