Fla. panel wants Stand Your Ground changes

May 1, 2012 at 8:18 AM
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla., May 1 (UPI) -- A state senator who formed a task force reviewing Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law said it should be rewritten to make claims of self-defense more difficult.

Sen. Chris Smith, a Democrat, said the controversial law should be amended to give law enforcement officers more leeway to investigate shootings of unarmed victims and make it more difficult for defendants to claim the self-defense protection the current law allows, The Miami Herald reported Tuesday.

Smith's independent task force is separate from the Gov. Rick Scott-appointed panel that meets Tuesday.

"We wanted to make sure that we put together an accurate report, to give the governor direction, to give the Legislature direction and to give the governor's task force direction," Smith said. "Every day this law is being used and misused in courtrooms throughout the state of Florida."

Florida's Stand Your Ground law came under fire after a neighborhood watch volunteer, whose parents are white and Hispanic, shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. The volunteer said he acted in self-defense under the state law.

Smith's task force recommended that those asserting self-defense should make their claim before a grand jury, which can decide whether to indict or dismiss charges. The panel also recommended that the statute's language be made clearer and a system be set up to track cases in which Stand Your Ground is used as a defense.

The panel did not recommend the law be repealed.

When Scott's task force on public safety meets Tuesday, it will establish its mission and schedule. That panel is tasked with making recommendations to Scott and the Legislature about Stand Your Ground and other safety issues.

Smith said his task force reviewed about 100 cases where a defense based on Stand Your Ground was successfully used, the Herald reported. In some cases, task force members said they found the law was used by guilty people as a way to escape punishment.

"This is being used in many, many cases," Scott said. "This is being used with a prostitute killing her john, this is being used in gang fights, this is being used everywhere."

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