When lawmakers in Florida enacted its “Stand Your Ground” law they intended it to be a tool to make it easier for citizens, particularly homeowners to defend themselves when threatened with serious injury or death.  The purpose of the law was to clarify and strengthen the previously existing self-defense laws.  The problem is Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law (“SYG”) is not working out as planned. While Florida lawmakers intended SYG to make is easier and cleaner for a homeowner to shoot a kill a burglar that entered his home, they did not envision a fatal confrontation between the Hispanic neighborhood watch captain (George Zimmerman) and the African-American kid who lived in the neighborhood (Trayvon Martin). 


SYG is contained in Florida’s Statutes Title XLVI,§ 776.013, and basically provides as follows: 

1. A person may use force if he or she has a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to himself or another person;

2. That person is presumed to fear for his safety if:

  • The suspect was unlawfully entering a dwelling, residence, for vehicle;
  • The person using force had reason to believe an unlawful entry had occurred or was occurring.

3. The person using force has no duty to retreat; can stand his or her ground; and can meet force with force including deadly force to prevent death or great bodily injury.

SYG basically says that a person can use deadly force on another if he reasonably fears for his life or safety.  SYG is remarkably similar to the legal standard that is applied to law enforcement officers when they use force or deadly force.  In California, for example, and most states, police have the right to use force including deadly force if they reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of others.  Cops are not required to retreat.  And whether an officer’s use of force was reasonable depends on the objective factors that he or she knew or perceived at the time of the incident.  Whether an officer used reasonable force should not be judged from the perspective of 50-50 hindsight.

So there you have it, Florida’s SYG has essentially adopted the same standard that is applied to police officers.  Unfortunately, for Florida there is one huge problem.  Police officers go through exhaustive training on how and when to use force. Prospective officers go through an extensive police academy and then receive regular use of force training.   Officers receive specific training on the different types of use of force tools available to them ranging from handguns and shotguns, to batons and tasers.  Officers have to qualify regularly at the shooting range.  In some departments officers must qualify with both hands with their handgun.  Most importantly, police officers go through extensive background and psychologically testing to determine whether they can make sound decisions in stressful, quickly changing and violent situations.  Zimmerman had little or no training, no qualifying, no background check, and certainly no psychological check.  Florida simply gave him a gun and SYG, and in effect, told him to go to work. 

Florida’s SYG is loaded with unintended consequences that Florida’s lawmakers did not anticipate or take the time to understand.  The problem with SYG and laws like it is that its application depends upon the human interpretation of an unlimited number of factual scenarios.  SYG does not simply apply to the citizen who is a victim of a home burglary or a car jacking.  It applies to an unlimited number of other situations including the neighborhood scuffle between Zimmerman and Martin that turned deadly.  In that sense, both Zimmerman and Martin were the victims of SYG.