I’ve received a surprising number of emails from people who don’t understand, and are quite confused about, the concept of the “stand your ground” (SYG) law in Florida. (Note: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.)
First things first: Zimmerman’s attorneys did not invoke SYG in his case and it was in no way part of his defense. This is important to recognize, because the media (and Michael Bloomberg) are trying their best to convince everyone that his defense team did in fact use it to get him acquitted. Apparently they’ve succeeded, if my emails are any indication!
SYG was not applicable here, nor did anyone attempt to make it applicable. The jury instructions contained some language that was lifted from the SYG statute to help them determine if he was justified in using deadly force, but no one made the assertion that the law was actually a factor. The instruction given to the jury was if they determined that “he was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force.” Note that it didn’t say “meet verbal threats with force” or “defend his shopping cart with force”, but that he could meet deadly force with deadly force. That’s a specific limitation which is important in understanding this law.
Second: SYG laws do not alter the requirements for the use of deadly force, and do not allow people to shoot other people over minor disagreements. The generally accepted standard to justifiably use deadly force is that the defender be in immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm (sometimes referred to as “crippling injury”.) While this varies slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the standard is basically the same: you must be in reasonable and articulable fear for your very life before you may use lethal force. This is not blind fear, but the reasonable belief, based on the totality of the circumstances and the behavior of the aggressor, that your life is in danger.
SYG laws do not lessen or lower this standard. If you shoot someone out of blind fear or anger, regardless of any SYG law in place you will still be tried for (and most likely convicted of) a felony crime. The language of the statute quoted above makes it clear that you may still only meet force with force, not employ force proactively or out of proportion.
The only thing that SYG laws do is to remove the often misused requirement that you run away regardless of the danger to you or others. The purpose of SYG is to acknowledge that your personal safety outside of your home carries the same primacy as it would were you inside your home; in other words, you do not give up the right to your own life just because you’re in a public place.
Be very clear: you cannot go out and shoot people (absent a justifiable reason) in a jurisdiction with SYG laws, any more than you can in any other jurisdiction — regardless of what the television talking heads tell you.
Here are some resources for you to peruse:
“Stand Your Ground” Laws: Self-Defense or License to Kill? (video with Massad Ayoob)
-=[ Grant ]=-