Building a defense for murder charges is not easy, but in Florida, defendants have it easier than most. The controversial “Stand Your Ground” law is a well-known defense for anyone who has been accused of unlawfully using deadly force. It is a defense that has allowed many to walk free from assault and even murder charges.
Stand Your Ground is not a new law, but it became truly controversial when changes were made in 2005. Previously, defendants had to prove that they had attempted to retreat or flee from the victim before using deadly force. In 2005, Florida dropped that requirement.
Now, all someone needs to legally use deadly force is the perception of the “threat of harm.” As long as the defendant can prove that the victim could have been perceived as threatening harm – he or she can walk free from violent charges, including murder.
This is how George Zimmerman avoided conviction after shooting 17-year old Trayvon Martin in 2012. That murder became international news and began the Black Lives Matter movement, but it is not the only murder case that has been affected by Stand Your Ground.
In fact, since the current version of the “Stand Your Ground” law has been adopted, Florida has seen a big increase in both homicides by firearms and overall homicides.
Stand Your Ground and Murder Rates
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study in late November that looked at Florida and the implementation of the 2005 changes to the Stand Your Ground law. JAMA compared changes in violent crimes to states that did not have a law like Stand Your Ground (since 2005, almost two dozen states have followed in Florida’s lead and adopted similar laws).
Overall homicides increased by more than 24%, and homicide by firearm increased 31% within that timeframe. While the study looked at different factors that could have led to this sharp increase (including the Great Recession), there are still strong links between Stand Your Ground and the number of gun murders Florida has seen since 2005.
That year, the murder rate in Florida was 4.9 per 100,000 residents. It rose to 6.2 in 2006, and has stayed above the 2005 rate to this day (in 2015, the murder rate was 5.2 per 100,000 residents).
Further Changes to Stand Your Ground?
Despite the controversy surrounding it, Stand Your Ground is still a legitimate defense for using deadly force in Florida. There have been repeated efforts to make changes to the law, including shifting the burden of proof from defendants to prosecutors in pre-trial hearings. This could give more work to the prosecution, and arguably would protect defendants.
These changes were proposed in December 2016, but it was not the first time. The Senate approved the same changes by a 24-12 vote at the beginning of 2016, but it did not go through to becoming law.
If you have been charged with murder or any other violent crime in which you used deadly force, Stand Your Ground may be appropriate for your case. However, using it may also be a misguided approach. It all depends on the circumstances. Reach out to an experienced Florida defense lawyer to discuss which defense strategy is likely to give you the best chance at a positive outcome in your situation.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.