Florida task force says no major changes needed to Stand Your Ground law

A 19-member task force commissioned by Gov. Rick Scott to review Florida’s Stand Your Ground law has put out its final report, largely voicing support for the law.

The task force made a handful of recommendations for the Legislature, but began the report by stating that, at its core, the self-defense law is fine as it is.

“All persons who are conducting themselves in a lawful manner have a fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to be,” the report reads.

The controversial law grants immunity to people who use force, including deadly force, in response to a perceived threat of bodily harm.

It was thrust into the spotlight last year after Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin was shot to death in Sanford by a man who later claimed self-defense under Stand Your Ground. The shooter, neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, was initially not charged, but now awaits trial on second-degree murder charges.

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll chaired the task force, which held statewide hearings and consisted of two lawmakers who drafted the Stand Your Ground law and others who voted for it. Police, lawyers and neighborhood watch volunteers were also appointed. Critics blasted the group’s makeup from the outset, predicting that it would not push for any significant changes to the law.

"It’s what I expected,” Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, told the News Service of Florida.

“When you put a task force together of people who wrote the bill and full of people who support Stand Your Ground I knew the task force wouldn’t come up with anything earth-shattering in their final report."

The group’s recommendations included reconsidering the state’s 10-20-Life law, tightening standards for neighborhood watch groups and commissioning a study to look into issues of racial disparities and unintended consequences of Stand Your Ground.

The task force also urged the Legislature to consider whether Stand Your Ground should apply when an innocent bystander is caught in the crossfire and to clarify whether or not the law’s immunity provision prohibits police from detaining and questioning a shooter.

Two task force members — Miami-Dade State attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle and Tallahassee-based pastor Rev. R.B. Holmes — each submitted letters indicating they wished the group had pushed for more significant changes.

“I have also seen not only from the experiences in my office, but from the testimony of our citizens and experts who came before our task force, that the law has had some consequences which I believe were unintended,” Fernández-Rundle wrote in a letter attached to the report. She said the law’s “immunity” provision should be scrapped.

Holmes, the vice chair of the task force, said he was concerned about inequalities in the application of the law, pointing out that it has been used to help criminals avoid prosecution and has been used in cases where a victim was shot in the back while fleeing.

“Other studies have shown that this law is associated with an increased death toll that falls disproportionately on minority groups,” Holmes wrote.

There are several bills before the Legislature that would repeal or amend the Stand Your Ground law, but they face long odds in Florida’s gun-friendly Legislature.

A “Million Hoodie March” vigil will take place in New York City on Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death.