George Zimmerman, the community-watch leader who shot Trayvon during an altercation in a gated Sanford community last month, told police he was acting in self-defense. They have not pressed charges.
About Florida’s law:
Q: How did law enforcement respond to the law?
A: Prosecutors across the state opposed the law before it was enacted Oct. 1, 2005. In the following five months, there were at least 13 shootings in Central Florida where self-defense was claimed. Out of six men killed and four more wounded in the cases, only one was armed. Some Orlando-area police agencies simply stopped investigating shootings involving self-defense claims and referred them directly to state prosecutors to decide.
Q: The law lets people use force if they “reasonably believe” it’s necessary to defend themselves. What defines “reasonable” in the perception of deadly threat?
A: Professor Scott E. Sundby of the University of Miami School of Law says that part of the law is included in many self-defense statutes. “The court leaves that amorphous question to the jury to decide,” he said.
Deciding whether someone acted reasonably is also a critical part of the “the fact-intensive inquiry” prosecutors must make before deciding whether charges are warranted in a shooting, Sundby said. That is presumably what is happening in the Seminole-Brevard State Attorney’s Office now.
Q: Can an unarmed person legally pose a deadly threat?
In case after case during the past six years, Floridians who shot and killed unarmed opponents have not been prosecuted. Former National Rifle Association President Marion Hammer, a major force behind the law’s passage, cited her own size and age in 2006 interview with the Sentinel about what she would do if confronted by a younger and larger aggressor.
“I’m 4-foot-11. I’m 67 years old,” she said. “If you came at me, and I felt that my life was in danger or that I was going to be injured, I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot you.”
Q: What do critics of the law say?
Arthur C. Hayhoe, director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, calls the law “a right to commit murder.”
“I predict this case is not going to be charged â€” it’s going to be dismissed,” he said of the case against Zimmerman. “Almost every case between two individuals where one was armed and the other was not is dismissed.”
Even supporters of the law say it has its limits.
” ‘Stand Your Ground’ is not a 007 license to kill,” said Sean Caranna, founder of Florida Carry, a group advocating gun owners’ rights. He stressed that shooting in self-defense requires ” a real fear your life is in danger.”
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Justifiable use of force
776.012â€ƒUse of force in defense of person. â€” A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if: