Stand Your Ground, Get Sued
A controversial Florida law that has let drug dealers, gang members, and killers, walk free, has just been clarified by the state Supreme Court.
Stand Your Ground was signed into law in 2005 by then Gov. Jeb Bush with heavy support from the National Rifle Association.
It says when you feel threatened you don’t have to run, you can stand your ground and even shoot to kill. As long as you claim you felt threatened, you may be immune from criminal prosecution.
It does not take into consideration whether you advanced and put yourself in harm’s way.
As you can imagine all sorts of people have claimed immunity from criminal charges under the law — a 14-year old who shot someone trying to steal his Jet Ski, a jogger who killed a Jack Russell terrier, a woman who claimed she was a vampire and bit an elderly intoxicated man.
Stand Your Ground has been a pretty good deal for at least 200 individuals the Tampa Bay Times found in a 2012 survey. The law allowed them to skirt criminal prosecution by claiming they were just standing their ground.
About 70% of those who claimed Stand Your Ground avoided criminal prosecution and walked free, according to the Times.
Now, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that claiming you stood your ground is not enough to avoid civil litigation. That is the remedy the injured seek to extract a monetary penalty from an alleged perpetrator and it can run into millions.
In a late September ruling, the unanimous decision overturned the case of Nirav Patel. The man was involved in bar fight with Ketan Kumar that resulted in Kumar being blinded in one eye.
Patel claimed Stand Your Ground and that he felt threatened and had to attack Kumar. Patel was granted immunity from criminal charges under the law by a Hillsborough County judge.
Kumar then filed a civil suit against Patel.
In a unanimous decision, the Court said Patel can still face civil penalties. He does not automatically have civil liability immunity extended under Stand Your Ground.
Civil court judges may still grant immunity for other reasons than Stand Your Ground laws.
Stand Your Ground laws got national attention in the 2012 case of Trayvon Martin. The 17-year-old was visiting his father in a Sanford, Florida neighborhood. Neighbor, George Zimmerman called 911 to report a suspicious person and instead of retreating, as he had been advised, Zimmerman approached Trayvon. The youth was killed.
Stand Your Ground is still not very clear and will likely face more debate over whether it is constitutional, so expect another round of legal battles but as it now stands, it does not grant you all the immunity you might have expected.