Recently a colleague of mine from a different state reached out to me and asked me to comment on the following question regarding Florida's Stand Your Ground Law:
I was wondering if the law is misinterpreted by people both inside and outside of Florida, and if yes, whether those misinterpretations/misconceptions of the law are due to the media or other sources. Also, whether the Florida self-defense statute is really that much different from other state self-defense laws and the MPC.
Here is my response:
The short answer to this question is no there are not MAJOR differences between FL self-defense laws and other jurisdictions (including MPC) and yes there are major misinterpretations/misconceptions due to media, other sources, and plain old ignorance.
The perception out there is that the "Stand Your Ground Law" (which is really just one sentence in Florida Statutes Chapter 776 and is the law in several other states) creates the "Wild West" where people can shoot anybody that looks at them funny and pay no consequences. However, if people would just dig a little deeper under the surface and stop accepting the talking points they would see that "Stand Your Ground Laws" are a huge protection for Criminal Defendants, and have saved many, many innocent people from going to jail.
In a nutshell what the “Stand Your Ground” provision of FL. Stat. Ch. 776 does is extend the castle doctrine of “no duty to retreat” from the home to any place a person has a lawful right to be. So in other words, if I’m standing on the sidewalk and somebody attacks me I don’t have to make that split second decision of whether or not I can safely retreat before I meet force with force.
Before the tragic story of the Trayvon Martin case (WHICH IS NOT A STAND YOUR GROUND CASE BTW!!!!!) there were several tragic stories of innocent individuals that defended themselves from brutal attacks, but because a crafty prosecutor argued effectively to a jury that the defendant could have safely retreated if he wanted to, those innocent individuals ended up going to prison for a very long time. That is the reason why we have Stand Your Ground laws, to protect people from being put in that impossible position of having to assess their surroundings, while at the same time being brutally attacked, and make a decision of whether or not they can safely retreat.
Have there been cases with unfortunate outcomes because of the Stand Your Ground provision, of course, no law is perfect. But as a Criminal Defense attorney I firmly believe that it is better for 10 guilty men to walk free than for 1 innocent man to have his liberty taken away. That is what Stand Your Ground does, it protects the innocent, it protects our civil liberties, and it stops wily prosecutors from using legal loopholes to send innocent people to prison. In my opinion, any champion of our civil liberties should be a staunch supporter of Stand Your Ground laws.
Also, let me take a quick second to clarify what I meant above when I said that the Trayvon Martin case was NOT a stand your ground case. When George Zimmerman made the decision to use deadly force and shoot Trayvon Martin, Trayvon Martin was mounted on top of George Zimmerman and was slamming his head into a concrete sidewalk. In that factual scenario George Zimmerman had no duty to retreat, not because of Stand Your Ground, but because it was physically impossible. He was on his back and could not move, therefore the Trayvon Martin case was a classic self-defense case, and not a “Stand Your Ground” case where someone had the opportunity to retreat but decided not to.