Article by Aida Mallard via The Gainesville Guardian
Published January, 19, 2019
A panel composed of two attorneys, Kenneth Nunn and AuBroncee Martin, and State Rep. Clovis Watson Jr., D-Alachua, discussed the law in depth at a forum held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center Saturday and attended by about 75 people, many of whom asked questions or voiced their own opinions.
“Stand your ground” is a bad law that has to be repealed by voter referendum because the legislature won’t do its job. That was the message delivered Saturday at a forum addressing the law held as part of Gainesville’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Celebration.
A panel of two attorneys and an elected official discussed the law in depth at the forum, which was held at the King Center and attended by about 75 people, many of whom asked questions or voiced their own opinions.
Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law gives a person the right to use deadly force — and no duty to retreat — if he or she reasonably believe that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. The law went into effect on Oct. 1, 2005.
The panelists were Kenneth Nunn, a law professor and assistant director of the Criminal Justice Center at the University of Florida Levin College of Law; State Rep. Clovis Watson Jr., D-Alachua; and AuBroncee Martin, attorney with the Eighth Judicial Circuit’s Public Defender’s Office and president of the Josiah T. Walls Bar Association. Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones, who was scheduled to participate, was unable to attend. The moderator was Gainesville community activist Jack Carter.
The panelists addressed the idea of whether Florida’s “stand your ground” law is a good statute or not as well as its impact on the community, the impact it has had on African-Americans, and the legal process in relation to the law.
They also discussed the “stand your ground” law in relation to the deaths of Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, and the 20-year conviction of Marissa Alexander for aggravated assault. Alexander was in her home when her husband threatened to kill her and she fired a warning shot.
Attendees also engaged with panelists about gun control, concealed gun permits, and arming teachers and staff in public schools in Florida.
Watson said that before ”‘stand your ground”’ became the law in Florida, a person had the right to defend his or her home under “something called Castle Doctrine” and had no duty to retreat before using deadly force against what he or she believed to be imminent deadly force. However, outside his or her house a person did have a duty to retreat or an obligation to diffuse the situation or walk away before resorting to force.
″‘Stand your ground’ is ambiguous, emboldens people and promotes vigilantism,” Watson said. “This is a terrible law. The previous law was more than sufficient.”
Watson said for 15 years the legislature has been trying to repeal the “stand your ground” law, and he has introduced a bill to repeal it each year for six years but the legislature as a body lacks the will and courage to do it.
Nunn said that Florida always has had a self-defense rule, and the “stand your ground” law is a “political choice that is chiefly unnecessary.”
Rather than having to use self-defense as an argument at a trial, a person claiming “stand your ground” would be immune from arrest and avoid a trial altogether, Nunn said.
Before 2006, Florida’s gun murder rate was below the national rate. Since 2006, the gun murder rate in Florida has been 8 percent higher than the national rate, according to the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
A study published in the journal of Social Science and Medicine, also states that a suspect is twice as likely to be convicted of a crime if the victim is white, and a leniency in convictions if the victim is non-white. Nunn said the racial makeup of a jury has a great deal to do with the outcome.
Any person who is able to claim a “stand your ground” defense gets complete immunity and can’t be sued or persecuted, Nunn said.
Martin said the “stand your ground” has had an insidious effect in additional way. “The duty to retreat has been removed and immunity from prosecution or civil action has been added,” he said.
Watson said that when the legislature has failed to do its job, as it did by not restoring voting rights for felons, the people stepped up to the challenge. “We can do a referendum,” said Watson. “We can’t let the NRA and other groups stop us from doing the right thing.”
Martin said the trial of George Zimmerman, who was accused of shooting Trayvon Martin, became a political issue. He said the prosecution didn’t do an efficient job telling the story because they were looking outside the court and “their eyes were not on the ball.”
“We need true criminal justice reform across the board and not the lip service we get from Tallahassee,” Watson said. “No one is exercising the will and courage — not in Tallahassee.”
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