The readers’ forum

Remove Stand Your Ground’s immunity escape hatch


As I predicted when Gov. Scott initially balked at convening a group of experts to objectively look at Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, the controversy over the flawed statute did not begin or end with the killing of Trayvon Martin.

The inability of the Jacksonville jury to render a guilty verdict on the first-degree-murder charge against Michael Dunn again underscored the havoc that this law has brought to our judicial system simply by being a critical component of “self-defense.”

Within less than a year, two different men managed to dodge any responsibility for the deaths of two unarmed black kids — both doing what kids are legally allowed to do — because each claimed to be in fear for their lives. In George Zimmerman’s case he feared the hoodie-wearing “punk” he had been following. For Dunn, it was the “thug” making hand gestures, and his “gangster-rap … culture for which I have no use.”

Each time, the cases have laid bare disparities in how races are perceived and treated in Florida. More important, it exposed a law that shields the angry individual who begins a deadly fight fueled by prejudices and sweeping characterizations. It lets them kill and claim to be a victim. It lets them kill, go home, sip a cocktail and order pizza.

While Dunn’s prosecutor is considering a rematch, it doesn’t mean the state will prevail. To convict on the charge of first-degree murder, the jury needs to be unanimous — each of them convinced that Dunn fired the killing shot because he was more fed up with music he detested than any fear for his life.

Unfortunately, just as Stand Your Ground worked to Zimmerman’s advantage, so, too, might it benefit Dunn. There is a real possibility that Dunn’s defense attorney will file an appeal based on yet another provision of the self-defense law, which deals with immunity. That section grants protection if the defendant feared for his life and the deadly force deployed struck a bystander, for example. Which means Dunn could argue that if a jury could not find him guilty of deliberately killing Jordan Davis, he cannot be found guilty for the “collateral damage” of the additional shots fired at the car. He never meant to hurt anyone else, just the person threatening to take his life.

Which brings us back to Stand Your Ground. I’m not against self-defense, but I am opposed to aggressors who absolve themselves as victims. Legislation I’ve been pushing for the past two years would not only better define aggression, but remove the immunity escape hatch.

Without the Legislature’s action, the greatest tragedy is that my predictions will continue to come true.

Chris Smith, Democratic leader, State Senate, District 31,

Fort Lauderdale

Read more Letters to the Editor stories from the Miami Herald

Natalie Altman

    The readers’ forum

    Aging gracefully? No way!

    I want to comment on Ms. Gina Barreca’s July 19 Other Views column on aging. She’s writing from the perspective of a 57-year-old woman; I’m 75. My perspective is living the process:

  • Keep Beckham

    What are mayors of Miami and Miami-Dade doing while Broward Mayor Barbara Sharief is getting a list of possible homes for the Beckham Group’s soccer franchise from all of that county’s 31 cities? After getting the thumbs-down on at least two port and downtown Miami possible venues, it would appear that wise government leaders in Broward are going into full-court press mode to lure the MLS star to make that county his home. It is time for the powers that be in both Miami and Miami-Dade to understand they don’t have a lock on this valuable sports venture. There’s still time left to take the Beckham Group more seriously.

  • Miami Shores vote

    Miami Shores residents Clark Reynolds and Dennis Leyva said in their July 24 letter to the editor that it took courage for Councilwoman Ivonne Ledesma and me to vote for a nonbinding resolution supporting marriage equality in Florida. While I appreciate the compliment, in 2008 when our state approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay folks from marrying, Miami Shores voters said “no” to this nonsense when 62 percent of our voters voted for marriage equality. Mayor Herta Holly, Councilmen Jim McCoy and Hunt Davis are the ones who should be singled out for voting against the interests of our wonderful village.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category