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

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