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'Stand your ground' flawed, task force told

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 02:37 AM

A task force examining Florida's "stand your ground" self-defense law was told Thursday that the Trayvon Martin shooting is one example of the law's ambiguity and the potential unintended consequences it has created.

"What we've discovered is, in a drug deal gone bad, people die, and this is the defense," Buddy Jacobs, general counsel for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, told the panel. "Our conclusion is that this law ought to be repealed. We don't think it's a thing we can tweak."

The 2005 law is under scrutiny following the Feb. 26 shooting in Sanford of the unarmed, 17-year-old Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Martin's family and supporters want Zimmerman arrested, but police say the law prevented them from doing so. At least 20 other states have similar laws.

The task force organizer, state Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, said the 7-year-old law has been controversial in past cases and likely will be again after the Martin case fades from national attention.

"It did not begin and it will not end with the Trayvon Martin case," said Smith, a Democrat.

The task force — which includes prosecutors, defense attorneys, police executives and politicians — could advocate repeal or specific changes or decide not to make recommendations, Smith said. It's unclear whether the Republican-controlled Legislature would consider any of its proposals, particularly since GOP Gov. Rick Scott has pledged to appoint his own task force after the Martin investigation ends.

The law allows use of deadly force to prevent "imminent death or great bodily harm," and it removed a person's duty to retreat in the face of such peril that was required in a previous self-defense law.

In Florida, police on the scene must decide whether there's sufficient evidence not to make an arrest when a person claims self-defense under the "stand your ground" law, which is why Zimmerman has not been charged.

Michael Satz, chief prosecutor in Broward County, said most instances cited by the law's proponents — such as an armed carjacking or home invasion — were covered by older self-defense laws.

The panel also heard from a number of citizens on both sides. Supporters said the law served to protect the innocent from criminal predators.

"You're never going to legislate bad things away," said Mike Schlichtig, of Fort Lauderdale. "Don't take away innocent people's rights to protect themselves. It is not an excuse to be a vigilante."