CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Perils of 'stand your ground'"

From the L.A. Times, this op-ed by Joelle Anne Moreno (Florida International University) seems to draw a rather indirect lesson from the Zimmerman verdict:

In 2005, when Florida adopted the nation's first "stand your ground" law, our collective moral understanding of what constitutes a justified killing was transformed. In endorsing more aggressive self-protection, the Florida Legislature tacitly acknowledged that guns would play an enhanced role in the state.

. . .

So what happens when, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, you convince people that they must stand their ground, armed to the hilt, against a scourge of violent crime? In an extensive study published in June 2012 in the Tampa Bay Times, the effects of this combination were chillingly obvious.

The law has been used in more than 200 cases since 2005, with defendants ranging in age from 14 to 81. Nearly 70% of defendants who invoked the law were set free. Defendants were significantly more likely to prevail if the victim was black, and the defense worked even in cases in which deadly force was used against unarmed victims by people who developed a "reasonable fear" for their life and safety only after provoking the victim.

. . .

It is hard to argue that this trial or verdict was determined by the "stand your ground" law, which was only introduced via Seminole County Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson's jury instruction that the defendant "had no duty to retreat and had the right to meet force with force." But a micro-focus on the trial ignores a more fundamental question. To what extent do we, as a state and a nation governed by law, bear responsibility for what happened to Trayvon Martin by encouraging near-universal gun ownership and endorsing vigilante self-defense?

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