Friday, November 24, 2017
Public safety

Florida task force on self-defense laws gets to work, focused on 'stand your ground'

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TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott's public safety task force had its first meeting Tuesday, and the 19-member group decided its mission would be to review Florida's self-defense laws, specifically the controversial "stand your ground" statute.

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, chair of the task force, clarified that the group's focus would not include issues such as racial profiling, Florida's rapid growth of concealed weapons permits, or neighborhood watch policies.

"There are over 170 public safety laws out there," Carroll said. "We don't have the time to delve into each and every one of them." She added that the task force may ask the Legislature to create a commission to review other laws and issues, but "stand your ground" would be front and center.

Even before its first meeting, critics charged the task force is too dominated by lawmakers who support gun rights and the existing "stand your ground" law.

"It's a mischaracterization to assume that this task force is not balanced," Carroll said.

Lawmakers, law enforcement officers, lawyers and laymen make up the task force, and the various professions came to the inaugural meeting with different perspectives on the contentious law.

"It seems to me that what we're really trying to achieve is that ('stand your ground') is applied in a fair and uniform way," said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. "Right now we sort of have a hodgepodge, and it was unintended."

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored "stand your ground" in 2005, said he was uncomfortable with the task force focusing specifically on the self-defense law, and not on other public safety issues.

"I understood the charge (was) much broader, and that the title of this task force was Citizens Safety and Protection, and may involve a number of other things," said Baxley, a task force member.

Mark Seiden, a Miami defense attorney who often tries self-defense cases, said the law ensures that people who use force in self-defense don't have to go through an emotionally taxing court trial.

"I think the intent of the law, in reading it, is that people should be entitled to defend themselves," he said. "And if they can show a court by a preponderance of the evidence that the defense was reasonable in their own mind, that they are spared the agony of going through a trial."

Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley said the language of the "stand your ground" law has a direct impact on law enforcement investigations, often tying officers' hands.

"You can't make a probable cause arrest," he said. "You've got to take it before a judge before you can do that."

The group will hold monthly meetings — usually on the second Tuesday of every month — taking public testimony and listening to expert opinion. The next meeting will be June 12 in Sanford.

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