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Florida’s “Shoot First” Law: How George Zimmerman Claims Self-Defense

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As the investigation of Trayvon Martin’s killing continues, one of the biggest unanswered questions has been what Florida law is the basis for the police department’s decision not to arrest the man who confessed to Martin’s killing, George Zimmerman.

A blog post shared with us on Twitter yesterday by theCoalition To Stop  Gun Violence sheds some light on this subject. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

The reluctance of the Sanford Police Department to arrest Zimmerman probably has something to do with Florida’s outrageous “Stand Your Ground” law. The law removes the duty of individuals to retreat from a confrontation and allows them to use deadly force if they reasonably believe that it is necessary to prevent death or “great bodily harm.” “Stand Your Ground” legislation was enacted in 2005 after being championed in the Florida state legislature by National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion HammerIn support of the law, Hammer said, “Through time, in this country, what I like to call bleeding heart criminal coddlers want you to give a criminal an even break, so that when you’re attacked, you’re supposed to turn around and run, rather than standing your ground and protecting yourself and your family and your property.” But critics in Florida’s legal community dubbed it the “Shoot First” law and said that it “encourages people to stand their ground … when they could just as easily walk away.” It has also been pointed out that the law “give[s] citizens more rights to use deadly force than we give police officers, and with less review.” A report by the South Florida Sun Sentinel vindicated these complaints, concluding, “several…accused murderers have successfully used [Florida’s] 2005 ‘Stand Your Ground’ law to prove they were the real victims.”

Since 2005, Florida has had more than 344 “justifiable murders” under their “Shoot First” law, according to theTampa Bay Times.

Here are three cases in which the “Shoot First” law exonerated defendants, as described by the South Florida Sun Sentinel:

  • In May 2010, a judge dismissed murder charges against two Tallahassee men accused of killing a teen, sparking outrage among state prosecutors, who have since called for the law to be repealed.
  • In May 2010, a Palm Beach County jury acquitted Timothy McTigue of second-degree murder in the death of Michael Palmer, 23. The two got into a fight in Riviera Beach and McTigue shot Palmer in the back of the head as Palmer got out of the water near a floating dock.
  • In 2007, a jury acquitted Norman Borden of murder when he shot and killed two men who threatened him as he walked his four dogs near his home in West Palm Beach.

This law and its effect on criminal justice in Florida are shocking. According to the Tampa Bay Times:

PHOTO: George Zimmerman mug shot from a 2005 arrest. Zimmerman is the neighborhood watch participant who shot a teenage, Trayvon Martin, in a gated community in Sanford, Florida.

The 2005 law gives you the right to protect yourself in a park, outside a Chili’s, on a highway — just about anywhere.

You need only to “reasonably believe” that pulling the trigger or plunging the knife or swinging the bat is necessary to stop the other person from hurting you.

What’s more, the paper found:

Reports of justifiable homicides tripled after the law went into effect, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Last year, twice a week, on average, someone’s killing was considered warranted.

The self-defense law — known as “stand your ground” — has been invoked in at least 93 cases with 65 deaths, a St. Petersburg Times review found.

In the majority of the cases, the person’s use of force was excused by prosecutors and the courts.

The Sun Sentinel adds:

The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association unsuccessfully fought passage of the law, saying it would turn Florida into the Wild West. A jury should have the final say about whether force was justified, they argued.

At least 14 other states — including Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky — have passed similar laws since Florida’s went on the books.

Note: The above article originally appeared at: Dominion Of New York

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Written by:

Published on: March 19, 2012

Filled Under: Justice, Politics

Views: 1235

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  • Andy Olsen

    Mr. Zimmerman  sounds like a very threatening man. If gets shot by someone he threatened, I wonder if the police would treat the case the same way?

    What a dumb law. This country is getting very extreme.

    • shouldbeblack

      Key word here is DUMB. Sadly ever dumb people (vote) need to feel empowerment . And a lawful gun will do just that…..!

  • VivaSelfDefence

    Contrary to what the gun restriction advocates would have you believe legal permitted law abiding citizens are not the ones who commit more crimes and add to the criminal element in fact since adopting a concealed carry law Florida’s total violent crime rate has dropped 32% and its homicide rate has dropped 58%. Floridians, except for criminals, are safer due to this law.”

    Now compare that to the nanny cities like philly, chicago and so on. The thugs have a grand time knowing the law abiding citizens cannot and do not defend themselves so the murder rate far in any of these cities surpasses the number you listed for florida for a decade.    No one has the right to harm you. No one has the right to cause injury, alter your life incur major medical bills or cripple or kill you.  If they feel they want to make you bleed then you have every right to defend yourself without needing to run and get taken down from behind or abandon your property or give it to them.  You are looking at the wrong solution. Spend more time teaching children not to physically beat someone to the ground or expect they may get hurt or killed, then you will make a change.

    • RiPPa

      Correlation isn’t causation in this instance as much as gun advocates would have us believe as well. I think it’s short-sighted to attribute a decrease in crime relative to the stats of urban centers to one states passing of conceal and carry legislation. 

    • Alma Barrus

      I think that promoting self defense can also be argued as teaching children that violence is an answer, and it incorporating it more into the culture will give you more violence in the end. Canadians, Europeans, Australians and plenty other 1st world nations don’t have their law abiding citizens packing heat every where they go, and they enjoy much less crime than what we have in the states. 

      Don’t get me wrong. I live in the north of Mexico not far from the border. Not a week goes by where there isn’t a shoot out and people die. I served in Iraq as a soldier in the US Army in 2004-’05. I don’t think that having more guns around is the solution.

      In fact, I blame the outrageous fire-arm production of the US on the violence we have down here. The drugs go north to the most narcotic hungry nation on earth, and the guns and money come down here.

      • Heather Mattingly

        Children should not be taught that violence is the answer but they should also be taught that in extreme cases it is okay to fight back. If a lot more children were trained in the art of self defense we’d see less abduction cases because criminals are bullies and will not go after someone who can fight back. The Martial Arts is a great way to teach self-defense and discipline to know when to use it. 

  • Redbohn

    I’m sorry but I would like to put a gun in Zimmermans mouth and pull the trigger!

  • Redbohn

    I’m sorry but frankly I would like to put the barrel of a gun in Zimmerman’s mouth and pull the trigger over and over again! I’d call it the Justice Law for Standing Your Ground!

  • Reggie

    Sounds like a legal excuse to kill black people.

    • sosmartru

       Why? Blacks also have used the Stand Your Ground law to protect themselves. The law has limitations, not what is ignorantly being stated here.

  • Dr Z420

    I have my concealed permit, and I choose to carry a handgun. I also choose to carry a secondary non-lethal concealed weapon as well so I can make the right choice when it comes to defending myself. I do have to say that neither weapon I carry knows the difference between skin colors nor do I and I will defend myself against any attacker no matter what color thier skin is.

    • Padreis

      Your main problem is that you might be a paranoid schizophric, or close to that condition.  Do you REALLY feel all that threatened?  I am 74 and have never felt threatened in my life to the point that I need to walk around like I was in the wild wild west.

      • sosmartru

         That’s because nothing has ever happened to YOU.

    • Heather Mattingly

      I agree. We need to be allowed to defend ourselves. We forget that it’s the Right to Bear Arms that keeps us free. Governments get rid of it and then later on, they move from being democracies to being dictatorships because the people no longer have the right or means to defend themselves against tyranny. But Zimmerman was not in any danger. The reports have said that this boy was carrying Skittles and Iced Tea. I’d love to see how one can threaten a person with a bag of Skittles.

  • Dr Z420

    I failed to express my disgust for Mr. Zimmerman. He did not act responsibly as a concealed weapons owner, and that resulted in the unnecessary loss of life.

  • Dr Z420

    Furthetmore Mr.Zimmerman should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I’m very angry at people like this because thier actions not only end people’s lives unnecessarily (most important), but they also affect my right as a responsible concealed weapon carrying American.

  • rick

    The law isnt dumb. And the author of this story is twisting the law, again making media as twisted as the shooter. Lets be clear about the lies, THERE IS NO “SHOOT FIRST” LAW! The law states when being attacked, one can meet force with the same amount of force being brought against the victim. In this case there was none, suspicious activity is NOT being violent and should have been delt with by police, not taken into his own hands by this “vigilanti”.He will paw…be patient, the feds are involved now.

  • Chodove

    Florida is nice place to vacation from to time, I would not want to live here, Government & State  passes law for citizens to fight back, because sad as police officers  can’t do there job. Now u guys to citizens into vigilantes. Wow unbelievable.

    • sosmartru

       Vigilantes turns themselves into that. I am an armed citizen, and I have never abused my permit, or used my weapon illegally.

  • Sltahoe88

    All killings in Florida which used this law as justification need to be reviewed for possible hate crime prosecutions. Especially where the crimes were interracial.

    • sosmartru

       And you’d probably protest like crazy if this proposal of yours were actually entertained,and you saw any of the thugs killed were black. But you wouldn’t care otherwise. Racist.

  • Poland

    pieprzony morderca

  • sosmartru

    Stand Your Ground is responsible for an overall decrease in violent crimes. 

  • Phillipgottschalk

    This is shui will not visit or live in Florida.

  • Anonymous

    It is obvious that in these incidents it was NOT in self-defense. Self-defense to me is someone attacking me, someone breaking into my house. This law “stand your ground” is twisted and misused. Something needs to be done to repeal or amend this so called law. I for one will not step foot in the state of Florida, nor will I support/purchase a product from the state of Florida until this law is repealed or a clearer definition of what is considered self-defense is mandated. It is NOT self-defense when an individual has every opportunity, as was the case with Zimmerman, to leave. HE was the one following Trayvon…HE was the perpetrator in this case, plain and simple. We ALL need to take a stand on behalf of those that have been murdered and take a stand AGAINST those that cower behind the protection of this dangerous “law”. 

  • anoymous

    Would it be considered self-defense to shoot Zimmerman, since he seems to be a threat to society? This law may end up biting him in the butt.

  • Anonymous

    This is what happens when you only have two political parties.  It’s like a football game.  Each side just tries to run as deep as it possibly can into the other team’s territory.  No nuance, no regard for policies that actually work.  Just try to drive as far as you can to the left or the right in order to make it harder for the other team when they inevitably get the ball.

    I like the idea of being able to carry a gun.  Your chances of the police saving you from an attacker are one in a million.  It just isn’t logistically possible, especially in more rural areas.

    At the same time, drawing that gun needs to carry a HUGE responsibility.  The “Stand Your Ground” laws are RIDICULOUS.

    We need to realize that the founding fathers were just a bunch of greedy oligarchs, most of whom owned slaves.  Then we need to scrap the constitution and come up with something that works for the 21st century.

  • Heather Mattingly

    The law, in itself is a good idea. Think of the instances we’ve heard over the last month or so about people shooting intruders as they entered their premises. In essence the law is a good idea. However, there needs to be a recognized boundary, what constitutes a threat and when it is in fact a better idea to run. As far as I’m concerned, if it’s just you and you have no one to protect, then run. There’s nothing to be gained if you get yourself killed. Zimmerman is screaming self-defense and playing the Shoot First Law card but what it boils down to is this. Trayvon was a young black boy. If he felt threatened, that’s the only reason and it’s obvious that threat was imagined or even just used as an excuse to shoot a black kid. This is where the clear cut boundaries need to be drawn. There needs to be criteria that are filled to determine whether or not it was self-defense and justified and a witness to back up that those criteria were there. I’m sure the criteria would not have been there in Trayvon’s case and self-defense would not fly.

    So to sum up, good idea but it needs limits and boundaries to make it effective for both sides.