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'Stand Your Ground' Panel Working on Recommendations

November 13, 2012 - 6:00pm

A group tasked by Gov. Rick Scott with reviewing the state's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law appears unlikely to recommend any major revamping of the statute, although it will make suggestions for additional study by lawmakers.

The panel, meeting Tuesday in Pensacola, worked on a draft report that largely would urge lawmakers to look more carefully at a couple of particular concerns about areas of the law that may be vague. The panel was created to review the law in the wake of the case in which neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin.

The basic premise of the law isn't being challenged by the panel, which includes lawmakers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, representatives of minority communities and law enforcement. The law essentially allows anyone who feels that their life or someone else's life is in danger while out in public to meet the threat of force with force. If they claim that was the situation, they can go to a hearing before a judge and get a ruling on that issue without ever going to trial.

The governor's Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection does want lawmakers to look more carefully at the part of the law that says that the presumption of justifiable self-defense doesn't apply when the person who uses defensive force is engaged in "unlawful activity."

That phrase may be too vague, the panel determined after hearing several "what if" scenarios and testimony that the decision about what unlawful activity is may vary in different parts of the state. One question that arose was whether that could mean, for example, that an immigrant in the country illegally wouldn't be able to claim self-defense under the law.

Task force members said Tuesday that they didn't completely agree on what ought to constitute unlawful activity, but said the Legislature may want to look at tightening the definition.

Another issue that drew much attention on Tuesday was what the process for law enforcement is when dealing with situations where shooters claim they've stood their ground in self-defense. The panel spent much of the morning discussing whether law enforcement may detain someone who is involved in a shooting and claims to have been shooting in self-defense.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, the original sponsor of the bill and a member of the panel, said the whole point was to prevent people from having to "lawyer up" to fight the state in such cases when "they've done the right thing."

But law enforcement officials say they still need to investigate whether the person's claim is true, and may need to take fingerprints, for example.

The group's report is due by the start of the legislative session in March.

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