Stand Your Ground law: Does it legalize vigilantes?

caines | 3/22/2012, 5 a.m.

Black attorneys Handfield and Gilbert explain the law

There are no arguments when it comes to who shot Trayvon Martin, 17. His shooter was George Zimmerman, 28. But what is unclear is whether his claim that he was protecting himself will stand in a court of law. Reportedly, Zimmerman told bystanders of the shooting incident that it was self defense. So, it is likely that Zimmerman will become one of many others who have attempted to defend their actions by invoking the 2005 Florida statute 776.013(3) also known as the Stand Your Ground Law. Anytime a person, who is not behaving criminally, and is in a place where they have a legal right to be and they are being attacked or threatened then they have the right to "stand [their] ground and fight back, meeting force with force, including deadly force." According to Larry Handfield, a Miami-based criminal defense attorney, "What that basically means is that every person in the state of Florida has the right to use deadly force if they have a reasonable belief that their life is in danger." When asked if the Stand Your Ground Law could increase the chance of violence and even death in various confrontations, Handfield said he it could, referring to a November 2011 road rage case that ended in one person's death and his known assailant not being charged because his actions were deemed acceptable under Florida's self-defense law. "Those are the types of incidents that you have now because people know that they have protection under the Stand Your Ground Law," he said. Cases where defendants claim that they used violence as a means of defense have increased since the law was passed. According to a 2010 Tampa Bay Times article, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has reported receiving three times as many reports of justifiable homicides since the law went into effect. But Handfields assessment of the potential downside and ramification of the law not new. "When the law was [first] changed people predicted that there would be a situation just like the tragedy that happened in Sanford," explained Oliver Gilbert, the vice mayor of Miami Gardens and the former assistant prosecutor for Broward County. "I don't think that anyone can rightfully claim to be surprised." The Stand Your Ground Law has also come under fire for its vague definition of what is a reasonable threat. "What is reasonable is going to be different for every situation," Gilbert said. For example, "what is reasonable for a woman who is 120 pounds is not reasonable for a man that is 200 pounds. And although the law itself is colorblind, race likely plays a factor in how the law is applied, according to Handfield. "The law does not allow race to be used as a justification but unfortunately, race has colored our perception of how we deal with things," he said. "Unfortunately for our young Black men, they have to be careful because they may be an unintended victim just because of the color of their skin." By Kaila Heardkheard@miamitimesonline.com