In 2005, Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law took effect. A recent study suggests the state’s murder rate surged 22 percent over the next 10 years, even once justifiable self-defense homicides were taken into account.
The study, published in a report found in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that lawful homicides accounted for 3.4 percent of Florida’s homicides on average between 1999 and 2005. These years notably were before “Stand Your Ground” took effect. From 2006 to 2015 — the decade after the law’s enactment — lawful homicides rose to an average of 8.7% of all homicides.
This finding shows that lawful and justified homicides alone cannot explain the surge in Florida’s murder rate since the (still significant) increase in lawful homicides makes up a small fraction of the state’s fatalities over the past 10 years.
So, while both lawful and unlawful homicides increased after the controversial law was enacted, it is clear that unlawful homicides made up the majority of the increased murder rate.
Are There Any Reasons to Be Skeptical of These Findings?
Like most studies, however, there are fair criticisms that can be raised. For example, the researchers who conducted the study only had data on how the murders in question were classified by authorities. This classification provides no information on the mental state of individuals when they decided to use lethal force.
In effect, it could be argued that some of the homicides that were classified as unlawful were perceived as justified self-defense by the individuals who committed the unlawful murder. The researchers had no access to data that could provide clarity regarding this distinction.
Regardless, it seems clear that Stand Your Ground has done little to reduce the amount of homicides in the state, given that the number has only increased. Critics of Stand Your Ground would likely wish to point to evidence highlighting the strengthening of background checks and enacting more stringent requirements for gun ownership have been linked to reduced gun homicides.
A Closer Look at Stand Your Ground
Florida’s Stand Your Ground law does not require Floridians to retreat when possible if lethal conflict can be avoided. Further, the law was recently broadened by the Florida legislature. The law now states that a defendant’s self-defense claim must be disproved by a prosecutor, not proven by a Florida criminal defense lawyer when hearings are held before trial.
It is worth noting, however, that two Miami judges have ruled that the broadening of the law by the Florida Legislature was unconstitutional, which may take the matter all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.
While the law has been controversial ever since the killing of Trayvon Martin gripped the nation, it is an inescapable fact that Stand Your Ground favors criminal defendants who are charged with murder and claim self-defense under the terms defined by Stand Your Ground.
John F. Greene is a Destin criminal defense attorney with more than three decades of courtroom experience. If you or a loved one has been charged with a murder that you believe was justified self-defense, contact John online or call his office (850) 424-6833 for a legal consultation to get started on a strong legal defense today.