August 14, 2013

Confusion over Stand Your Ground law

The Zimmerman case has become the lightning rod for arguments against the Florida “Stand Your Ground Statute” and the sweeping breadth of its protection for individuals who claim to have used deadly force in the face of reasonably perceived deadly force. Yet, interestingly, there was no pre-trial “Stand Your Ground” Motion to Dismiss even heard by the Court in the Zimmerman case. Indeed, Zimmerman’s defense waited until trial to present Mr. Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense. So, what is this immunity conferred by the “Stand Your Ground” Statute, how is it different from the trial defense of self-defense, and why didn’t Zimmerman attempt to cloak himself with immunity under the Statute?

The Florida Approach to Self Defense

Before October 1, 2005, a person was not permitted to resort to deadly force in self -defense without first using every reasonable means within his power to avoid danger, including retreat. Effective October 1, 2005, however, the Florida Legislature made sweeping changes to the law governing self-defense, eliminating the duty to retreat and conferring “the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” [Emphasis added]. See 776.012 Florida Statutes.

To make a citizen’s assertion of his right to self-defense absolute, the Florida Legislature also enacted section 776.032 Florida Statutes, which immunizes those acting in self-defense from both civil suit and from criminal prosecution. Meaning, a person who claims to have “stood his ground” in the use of force can move to dismiss any case brought against him, civil or criminal, where he can show such force was justified. In the criminal context, a defendant may move for a pre-trial “stand your ground” hearing where he needs only to prove justification for his actions by a preponderance of the evidence. If Mr. Zimmerman had proven he had properly “stood his ground”, the criminal case against him would have been dismissed without the need for a trial. However, Zimmerman withdrew his request for a pre-trial “stand-your-ground” motion. Why?

At the pre-trial hearing, Zimmerman would have had the burden of proving that he properly acted in self-defense by a preponderance of the evidence. At trial, the burden shifted to the State to, in effect, disprove Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. As we all saw, this is a very difficult burden of proof, especially in cases where there is only one person left to tell what happened. Zimmerman’s attorneys most certainly believed that their chance of succeeding at the pre-trial motion hearing was slim, and didn’t want to take a chance that potential jurors would hear that the Judge had rejected the claim of self-defense, thereby possibly leading potential jurors to conclude that the self-defense claim wasn’t credible. It was a gamble that paid off-as we all saw.


Article originally posted on: FOX 5 Atlanta

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