'Stand Your Ground' Laws - The Trayvon Martin Case & Neighborhood Watch Groups

Author:Mr Hayes Hunt and Calli Jo Varner
Profession:Cozen O'Connor

The shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Orlando, Florida has focused tremendous attention on Florida's contentious Stand Your Ground law, passed in 2005.  Since enactment, claims of justifiable homicide in Florida have more than tripled.  The Tampa Bay Times reports that the defense has been claimed in 130 cases, 70% of which involved fatalities. More than half of these cases, however, did not go to trial at least partially due to the invocation of the defense. 

So why are these cases not being tried?  Under common law, a person has a "duty to retreat" prior to using deadly force on another.  This aptly named "Castle Doctrine" applies when a person is in his or her home and has the right to use deadly force without first exercising the "duty to retreat."   Florida's Stand Your Ground law extends the Castle Doctrine outside one's home to include public places.  Pursuant to the law, a person in any other place has no duty to retreat and has the right to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent death or bodily harm or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.  Once a person claims they felt as though the use of deadly force was necessary to protect themselves it becomes difficult to investigate and ultimately to prosecute.  This is especially true where, as is often the case, there are no third-party witnesses and, as in the Martin matter, the only witness other than the shooter is dead. 

The Stand Your Ground law becomes even more controversial when the defense is claimed by members of neighborhood watch groups.  Florida is considering a bill that...

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