The recent death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin has garnered national attention for a number of reasons. However, most of the controversy centers on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. Passed in 2005, the law has long been controversial; critics claim that its broad provisions encourage vigilante justice.
For those of you not aware of the facts of the case, they are as follows. On February 26, African-American teen Trayvon Martin was walking to his father's girlfriend's house. Upon seeing the teen walking, neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman called 911 to report a "suspicious person." The 911 dispatcher told Zimmerman to not follow the boy, but Zimmerman disregarded the request and went after him with 9mm gun. Martin, while on the phone with his girlfriend, noted that Zimmerman was following him and tried to walk away a little faster. He was unarmed, possessing only a bag of Skittles and bottle of iced tea. A struggle ensued, ending when Zimmerman shot and killed Martin. Zimmerman claimed self-defense, and the police cut short their initial investigation. It is a genuine possibility that under Florida law, Zimmerman's claim of self-defense could give him absolute immunity from prosecution.
Most states, including Missouri, have what's called the "Castle Doctrine." As we discussed in an earlier post, the Castle Doctrine is a very old legal principle that states a person does not have to retreat in the face of a home invader, and may use "deadly force" when reasonably fearing death or serious bodily harm from the intruder. The term comes from the old saying that "a man's home is his castle." Back in 2007, the Missouri legislature passed a law that made it even easier to invoke the Castle Doctrine. If a person breaks into your home, it is now presumed that a person breaking into your home or vehicle intends to do you harm.
The Florida "Stand Your Ground" law goes a step further. The portion of the law that's being cited as the source of the Martin controversy reads:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has 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.
Under Florida law, the right to "meet force with force is not only not limited to the home, but also allowed if the perpetrator "reasonably believes" that it's "necessary" to prevent death, great bodily harm to himself or someone else, or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. Zimmerman stated that Martin attacked him and absent evidence to the contrary, he could be immune from prosecution. Since the law has passed, the number of "justified killings" has nearly tripled. The reason that this case has garnered so much attention is that there appears to be significant evidence that Zimmerman incited the encounter, that the "self-defense" claim is incredibly weak, and that despite all that, the Stand Your Ground law may make it extremely difficult to prosecute what to many looks like a vigilante murder.
The Castle Doctrine does have its place in American law and is a viable defense for protecting one's home and loved ones. If you find yourself in such a situation, contact our St. Louis criminal defense attorneys today at (314) 863-0500.
Source: "'Stand Your Ground Law' at center of Fla. shooting," by The Associated Press, published at STLToday.com.