What does Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law have to do with Trayvon Martin’s death?

People gather at a "Stand Up for Trayvon Martin" rally in Washington.

As rallies calling for justice in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin continue across the country, Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law is at the center of debate.

The law, which is active in 20 other states, grants citizens the right to use deadly force in self-defense from an attacker or to prevent a felony. George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who admitted to shooting Martin, has not been charged with any crime, his claim that he shot the unarmed 17-year-old in self-defense, making the law a flash-point in the controversy.

Critics argue that “Stand Your Ground” is too broad and allows citizens to act unreasonably within the law. Here’s a look at exactly what the law empowers a citizen to do, according to Wikipedia:

776.012 Use of force in defense of person. — 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:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
 
(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

776.032 Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.—

(1) A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer. As used in this subsection, the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.

776.041 Use of force by aggressor. —The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:

(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:

    (a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
    (b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

That last part may prove crucial, as Zimmerman has told police that he was on his way back to his car after following Martin, when the teen retaliated and attacked him, bloodying his nose and slamming his head against the concrete, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

However, since “Stand Your Ground” extends the right to act in self-defense to a citizen “who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked
in any other place where he or she has a right to be,” that would mean Martin would be protected under the law for attacking Zimmerman if he felt threatened after realizing he was being followed.

Such convoluted points are fodder for critics who claim the law prevents police from pursuing murder charges if someone says they acted in self-defense. “Stand Your Ground” laws are currently moving forward in Iowa and Illinois, despite the controversy surrounding them following Martin’s death.


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