PENSACOLA _ After four months of testimony regarding Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, a panel headed by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll is finalizing recommendations to the legislature about how – if at all – the law should be changed.
But critics of the task force appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in the aftermath of the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer were disappointed by the panel’s suggestions, saying they will do little to clear up what they call haphazard application of the law.
The panel’s first recommendation is an affirmation of the law.
“The Task Force concurs with the core belief that all persons, regardless of citizenship status, have a right to feel safe and secure in our state. To that end, all persons have a fundamental right to defend themselves from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to be and are conducting themselves in a lawful manner.”
Other recommendations include:
- Asking the legislature to examine the “unlawful activity” of the law. The statute says that the Stand Your Ground law can be invoked as long as people are not engaged in “unlawful activity.”
- Training for prosecutors, law enforcement officials and others about how the law works.
- Having the lawmakers consider setting standards for neighborhood watch groups, now left up mostly to local law enforcement.
- Asking lawmakers to examine the definition of “criminal prosecution” to clear up confusion by law enforcement officials about what they are allowed to do under the law.
“The Task Force heard examples of law enforcement expressing concern for the definition of ‘criminal prosecution.’ The concerns were that law enforcement was not assured of the ability to fully investigate by detaining or arresting upon probable cause a person engaged in use of force,” that recommendation reads.
The panel, just back from lunch, is slated to discuss the “10-20-Life” law as it relates to the use of Stand Your Ground, possibly making a recommendation to relax that gun-related statute that includes mandatory sentences for crimes in which a gun in used.
Criminal defense lawyers and the sponsors of the Stand Your Ground law vehemently objected to a proposal to do away with the immunity from prosecution portion of the law, saying that would effectively gut the statute.
Palm Beach County circuit judge Krista Marx brought up the issue of immunity, arguing that only judges can give immunity. Under the law, people who use the Stand Your Ground defense are immune from prosecution unless a judge decides they may have committed a crime.
She said law enforcement can still investigate whether a crime was committed.
“So when you use the word immunity and suggest that a law enforcement officer or even a state attorney can infer immunity on somebody, it’s incorrect,” Marx said.
But state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the law, disagreed. He wanted to make sure the law continued to keep people who use Stand Your Ground from having to hire a lawyer to defend themselves in court.
“I think the legislature does have the authority to say who will be prosecuted and who will be not prosecuted,” Baxley said. “And in that generic sense that they’re immune from prosecution if in fact they were a law-abiding citizen they were doing nothing wrong except what they should do, which is stop a violent act so nobody got beat raped or murdered. You do not detain them. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do…They’re stopping a violent act. And that’s what I want the statute to do at the end of the day.”