Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law Needs Work

Perry E. Thurston Jr.:

Perry E. Thurston Jr. is a Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives, representing the state’s 93rd district.

Yes. I have always supported the right to self-defense. However, there are many problems with Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

“Stand your ground” laws stem from a long-standing common law right to self-defense. A victim traditionally has had the right to meet force with equivalent force. “Stand your ground” expands that right to include a right to pre-emptively use deadly force when the victim fears death or severe injury, and to do so without retreating. Florida recognizes a right to use deadly force without retreating against an intruder to one’s home.

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Florida’s law is not clear to those who must apply it as to what constitutes provocation by an aggressor. If law enforcement does not know when following someone, using harsh language or physical contact arise to the level of provocation, they have no way of knowing who is the aggressor and who is a victim in a situation where both parties eventually resort to force.

Florida law provides immunity from criminal prosecution, including arrest. Law enforcement needs to know whether they can arrest someone while they investigate a death. The Florida Supreme Court believes immunity should be decided by a judge, but procedural clarity needs to be provided to law enforcement and prosecutors to show when and how to bring that question before the court. An accused is innocent until proven guilty, but misunderstanding of the law should not be the cause for losing the chance to responsibly investigate a death.

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Also, the law provides no standards as to when or if a victim’s right to use self-defense terminates if the aggressor attempts to withdraw or escape from a conflict. The law does not speak to situations in which the victims voluntarily put themselves in a dangerous situation. It does not address gang violence, riots, or other situations that are likely to blur the line between victim and aggressor.

The right of a victim to act in self-defense is unquestionable, but that does not mean the law that implements that right cannot be questioned. I believe we must amend the law to ensure that it works in every situation, to ensure that law enforcement knows what responsibilities exist under the law and to ensure that the public can feel confident in justice for the victim and the aggressor.




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