Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith is making good on his promise to propose substantial changes to the state's self-defense law, known as "Stand Your Ground."
Among other things, Senate Bill 136 would eliminate provisions that allow people found to be the aggressor in altercations to later claim "Stand Your Ground." It also would eliminate automatic immunity, allowing law enforcement additional leeway to investigate cases where the self-defense laws are invoked. Lastly, the proposal would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to track all "Stand Your Ground" cases.
Smith created a task force to study the issue in the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. At the time, Smith said he was forced to act because the state had not. Senate Bill 136 is based on that group's findings, Smith said.
“The tragic shooting in Sanford, Florida, earlier this year, was a call to action,” said Smith, a Democrat from Ft. Lauderdale. “It underscored the ease with which an aggressor can dodge prosecution simply by claiming fear of bodily harm. And it underscored the abuse of the law by non-law abiding citizens and the confusion law enforcement faced about its basic provisions.
Gov. Rick Scott did appoint Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll to lead a a separate "Stand Your Ground" panel. The group studied the issue for six months but ultimately didn't recommend any substantial changes to the law.
Here is the full press release from Smith:
Following through on recommendations from his own task force and commitment to tighten what many critics view as widely abused “get out of jail free” cards, Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith (D-Ft. Lauderdale) on Wednesday announced that he has filed legislation revamping Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
“The tragic shooting in Sanford, Florida, earlier this year, was a call to action,” said Senator Smith. “It underscored the ease with which an aggressor can dodge prosecution simply by claiming fear of bodily harm. And it underscored the abuse of the law by non-law abiding citizens and the confusion law enforcement faced about its basic provisions.
“This legislation ends the confusion, the misapplication, and the ability of an individual to kill someone and simply walk away.”
Senate Bill 136, “Self Defense,” contains two important elements Senator Smith’s task force identified earlier this year as critically needed to bolster public safety. The task force was created following the governor’s reluctance to quickly convene a similar effort following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and self defense claims made under “Stand Your Ground” by George Zimmerman.
The first provision removes the loophole allowing an individual to provoke violence, or pursue an individual to provoke a violent confrontation and claim a justification defense under the law because of fear. “If you are the one being aggressive, starting a confrontation, or harassing an innocent person, then this law will no longer protect you after you have killed someone, and you will not get the benefit of immunity,” said Senator Smith. “Aggressors will have to rely on regular self-defense rules and convince a judge or jury that they acted reasonably within the law.”
The second provision removes automatic immunity from arrest or detention and clarifies for law enforcement that a person can be arrested following a questionable death. “Under this change, a person will not automatically get immunity from arrest or detention just by telling the police they had to kill or hurt someone because they feared for their life,” said Senator Smith. “There will be an investigation into the facts, into the use of deadly force, and police will have the ability to confirm or reject the self defense story.”
In addition, Senator Smith’s legislation will also require tracking and reporting by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on all “claims” of alleged justifiable use of force. The tracking must follow the case or claim until resolution.
“These common sense changes are not about taking away gun rights from Floridians,” said Senator Smith. “It’s about stemming the culture of violence in our society by putting responsibility for the consequences back into the hands of gun users, and anyone else who deploys deadly force under Stand Your Ground.”