As recently seen in Houston, TX, the “stand your ground” law is not a license to kill. When given the opportunity, a jury is able to distinguish between the law’s intent and a person distorting the law to defend murder.
In Houston, TX a jury found Raul Rodriguez guilty of killing his neighbor and sentenced him to forty years in prison on June 27th. In a dispute over loud music Rodriguez went to his neighbor’s house, armed with a gun, then rang the door bell and knocked on the door. When his neighbor came outside he shot and killed his neighbor and injured two others claiming that he felt threatened. Rodriguez claimed he was acting in self-defense under Texas’ “stand your ground “ law. The jury rejected this defense saying that Rodriguez provoked the incident.
The parallels between this case and the George Zimmerman case are clear even though the Texas decision is in no way binding on a Florida jury. If it can be shown that Zimmerman provoked the attack then he cannot claim self-defense under Florida law. It will be more difficult for the prosecution to prove provocation in Florida than it was in Texas since in Texas there were several eyewitnesses, video, and a 911 call. But this doesn’t mean that a jury can’t correctly assess whether Zimmerman acted according to the intent of the Florida law.
The law is intended to give people legal cover if they find themselves in a situation in which their self-preservation, or the preservation of their family, requires them to stand their ground and use a firearm for self-defense. Whether Zimmerman acted in accord with the law cannot be known at this point since we have not yet had a trial. But, critics of Florida’s law argue that the law needs to be changed because it has allowed Zimmerman to kill indiscriminately. This criticism rests on two premises for which the validity is not yet known. First, Zimmerman has not been found guilty or innocent so to say that the law protects his actions is premature. Second, absent the law, we cannot know what Zimmerman would have done. To say that if Florida did not have a stand your ground law that Zimmerman would not have shot Trayvon Martin is to take speculation beyond reason. For this premise to be true, critics of the law have to assume that they know Zimmerman’s state of mind and considerations at the time of the shooting.
Those who think that the stand your ground law is a culprit in this incident need to reevaluate their premises and then turn West. A Texas jury has found that reasonable people can correctly apply a law to a given situation when all the facts are laid before them. A written law can never be comprehensive or take into account all circumstances, which is why the application of the law is best done by juries and further legislation on this matter is unnecessary.
Kyle Scott teaches American politics and constitutional law at Duke University and University of Houston. His commentary on current events has appeared in Forbes, Reuters.com, Christian Science Monitor, Foxnews.com, and dozens of local outlets including the Charlotte Observer, Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun.