Police officers in Florida are seeking to invoke Stand Your Ground protection to defend against excessive force claims.
The original version of the Stand Your Ground law was passed in 2005 to provide legal protection to civilians who shoot first in situations where they feel their lives are in imminent danger.
The history of Stand Your Ground
Application of the law has been the subject of controversy in high-profile cases such as the 2012 shooting death of unarmed, Black teenager Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman. Zimmerman’s defense team successfully utilized the Stand Your Ground law to convince jurors to acquit the self-appointed neighborhood watch.
Marissa Alexander, a Black woman, tried to use the Stand Your Ground law in her own defense for shooting a “warning shot” at her estranged, abusive husband in 2010. But in 2012, she was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
A year later, Zimmerman was acquitted for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin. The same prosecutor, Angela Corey, oversaw both cases.
Alexander eventually took a plea deal that significantly reduced her sentence and put her under house arrest. She was finally freed from her ankle monitor in February 2017.
This seemingly uneven application of the Stand Your Ground law has sparked national debates about how certain legislation disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations, and if the color of the person pulling the trigger is a determining factor for a successful defense using the law.
How officers are standing their Ground
Recently, Florida police officers have attempted to use the Stand Your Ground law to defend themselves against excessive force claims. Michigan, Texas, Arizona and nearly two dozen other states have a law similar to Florida’s, but so far Florida is the only state where police officers have attempted to use it in regards to on-duty incidents.
In 2017, two Miami police officers successfully invoked Stand Your Ground to avoid paying for damages involving the beating of a man in a wheelchair. The law protects against civil and criminal proceedings.
In 2012, a judge rejected an Orlando area cop’s attempt to be shielded by Stand Your Ground for the beating of a 63-year-old man. The officer’s case went to trial and he was acquitted.
Benjamin Crump, who has served as counsel for Trayvon Martin’s family and the families of other victims of fatal encounters with police, told the New York Times that officers using Stand Your Ground is a bad idea.
“To extend it to police officers on the street gives them a license to kill just by saying they felt fear — no standards, no objective check and balance,” said Crump.