Florida’s controversial self-defense law, known as “Stand Your Ground,” has gained nationwide attention in recent years. This focus largely began after George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin in 2012; though Martin was not armed, Zimmerman was ultimately acquitted, thanks to the Florida law.
Despite the negative press surrounding that trial and the law itself, Florida has not only retained Stand Your Ground, but it has also recently expanded it.
In July, an updated version of the law passed through the state legislature and was signed by Gov. Rick Scott. This revision changed the way individuals charged with homicide would be prosecuted when citing Stand Your Ground. The key difference here was that prosecutors would, before a jury trial was held, have to show that the defendant was not acting in self-defense.
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In essence, this placed an unreasonable burden on the prosecution, effectively sidestepping of one of the most important aspects of the United States legal system: trial by jury.
It’s not all bad news, though.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch ruled this week that the alterations to Stand Your Ground violated Florida’s constitution. In his order, Hirsch explained that legislators had exceeded their authority and argued that such changes could only come from the state’s Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, Hirsch’s decision only applies to Miami-Dade courts. The rest of Florida, at present, must carry on with the changes. On the bright side, however, this ruling will likely invite a showdown in Florida’s high court — one that legislators are not likely to win.
Though it might be a bit of a stretch to suggest it, such a legal skirmish could even find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court and affect Stand Your Ground laws across the country. While Brown v. United States — not to be confused with Brown v. Board of Education — addressed this issue at the highest level in 1921, state laws with various forms of Stand Your Ground or Castle Doctrine laws have become more nuanced than justices may have anticipated at the time.
And from a scientific standpoint, there’s a direct link between such self-defense laws and homicide rates.
A collaborative study between experts at the University of Oxford and the University of Pennsylvania examined firearm homicides in Florida between 2005 and 2014, and their findings are not entirely surprising.
Researchers discovered that the state, since strengthening Stand Your Ground, saw a 32 percent increase in homicide by firearm. In other words, if people know — or at least think — they face fewer repercussions for using guns lethally, they are more prone to do so.
With the hard facts at our disposal, it is now time for the high courts to intervene and eliminate these archaic, Wild West-inspired laws and the high body counts they bring with them.