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Democrat's panel recommends major changes to Florida's Stand Your Ground law

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

State Sen. Chris Smith says changes are needed to Florida's Stand Your Ground law.

As a governor’s task force appointed to review Florida’s Stand Your Ground law convened for its first meeting Tuesday, a rival panel formed by a state senator is recommending a major overhaul of the controversial self-defense bill.

State Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, put together his own 18-member panel on April 5, saying he was frustrated that Republican Gov. Rick Scott was moving too slowly to re-examine Stand Your Ground in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting.

On Monday, Smith’s panel released a report that recommended significant revisions to the 2005 law, which allows citizens to use deadly force in public places if they reasonably believe their life is in danger.

George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, told Sanford, Fla., police he acted in self-defense when he shot the 17-year-old Martin, who was unarmed, on Feb. 26. Police didn’t immediately arrest Zimmerman. He was charged with second-degree murder on April 11 – 46 days after the shooting – following high-profile protests and a review of the case by a special prosecutor.


“Stand Your Ground has been on the books for seven years now. There is ample and overwhelming documentation of the law’s use, and more importantly, its abuse,” Smith said Monday in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott accompanying his panel’s report.

George Zimmerman's attorney defends move as a counter to fake sites. WESH's Cara Moore reports.

“The Sanford shooting should not have been a cause for delay; to the contrary, it was a compelling call to action that something needed to be done about the law’s confusing and often misapplied provisions.”

Smith’s panel didn't call for a repeal of the law. Instead, it unanimously recommended that cases of people claiming self-defense under Stand Your Ground be presented to a grand jury to determine what a “reasonable" person would do in the situation. It also called for educating the public and law enforcement; creating a system to track self-defense claims in the state; and adding language requiring “imminent” danger.

“Weeks ago when I stood here, I called for the governor to act immediately. And when the governor didn’t act, I decided to act,” Smith, an outspoken critic of the current law, said at a press conference on Monday to present the findings.

Brendan Mcdermid / Reuters file

Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed a panel to review Stand Your Ground and rissue recommendations on public safety policy.

“Stand Your Ground has been used way before Trayvon Martin and will be used way after Trayvon Martin. But in order to make sure we have a just, legal and safe society I still believe that the Legislature should act soon and make sure we clarify how we should live in a civilized society.”

Read the full report by Sen. Chris Smith's panel

Meanwhile, the governor’s official task force to explore Stand Your Ground met for the first time Tuesday in Tallahassee. The 19-member panel is led by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who co-sponsored Stand Your Ground in 2005 and voted for it.

She opened the meeting by saying the panel has no "preconceived notions" about what it will recommend. She said its mission is not to “try the Zimmerman-Martin case.”

“This law is not specific to any one area of our state or person, it can apply to any area of the state,” Carroll said, Sunshine State News reported.

Tuesday’s meeting was mostly organizational and held to discuss the panel’s mission. At future meetings the panel will take public testimony. Smith has been invited to present his own panel’s findings at a future meeting.

The panel will make public safety recommendations to the governor and the Legislature.

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