John Romano: Time to fix a flawed 'stand your ground' law

Published Jun. 7, 2012

It seems many of us want to believe in Florida's "stand your ground'' law. The polls show it. The politicians sense it. Common sense probably even dictates it.

So, no, I will not argue with the concept of a law based on self-defense.

But would you mind if I argued against the vagueness of that law?

Because if you read the comprehensive report of "stand your ground'' by Tampa Bay Times reporters and researchers the previous two days, it's pretty hard to deny the ambiguity, misapplications and overall confusion this law has created in our court system.

"Stand your ground'' was supposed to provide a blanket of protection for the frightened, the elderly, the victims among us. Instead, it is being hijacked by bullies, gang members and drug dealers when it suits their purposes.

That does not make it a bad law; it makes it a flawed one.

Go back seven years. Back to the days when "stand your ground'' was first proposed, and before it had actually become the law of the land.

One of the legislative architects of the bill said it was not intended to excuse shootouts with would-be muggers in the street. In that situation you should just give up your wallet, Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, said at the time.

"This is about defending your house, your mobile home, your car,'' Peaden said in 2005. "There (is) no intent to have you stand in the street and shoot anybody.''

And yet records show that is exactly what has happened.

It doesn't have to be someone breaking into your house or carjacking you at a stoplight. In the right circumstances, you can confront and kill someone sleeping with your spouse. You can kill someone who merely threatens you, even if they are not armed. You can kill someone who is already fleeing from a fight.

Even if you believe it was passed with the best of intentions, you must acknowledge this law has often led to the worst kind of results.

There are too many inconsistencies. Too many loopholes. And far too much leeway.

Look at it this way:

For weeks, police and prosecutors in Sanford declined to bring charges against George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin because of "stand your ground.'' Agree or disagree, that was the reality.

Yet consider the possibility that their confrontation had ended differently. What if it had been Martin who killed Zimmerman?

The teenager would have had a tailor-made case for a "stand your ground'' defense. After all, Zimmerman was an armed man pursuing Martin for no apparent reason.

Now, isn't there something remarkably ambiguous about a law that can be claimed by either side in the same deadly confrontation? The deciding factor should not be who survived long enough to act as their own witness.

So what's the solution?

The task force assembled by Gov. Rick Scott needs to take a hard look at cases dismissed due to the "stand your ground'' defense. It needs to talk to judges, prosecutors and law enforcement about some of the potential abuses.

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It needs to come up with tighter language that will reduce the possibility of people either initiating or prolonging confrontations under the banner of "stand your ground.''

And it needs to convince Floridians that, in this case, maybe it is best to retreat.