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Courts / Law

Trayvon Martin and Stand Your Ground: Experts Say It Has "Little Direct Relevance"

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Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law says you do not have a duty to retreat if you feel threatened. It's come under renewed scrutiny because of the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

But two legal experts say the law may have little affect on Martin's case, or whether self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman goes to jail.

Here's what Stetson Law professor Robert Batey told us in an e-mail:

To use deadly force in self-defense, a person must reasonably believe that he faces an imminent unlawful threat of death or serious bodily injury. If the facts show that Zimmerman faced no such threat, he does not have a defense based on self-protection, either in a "stand your ground" state like Florida or in jurisdictions with more restrictive rules. But in this instance, Zimmerman describes facts that seem to support a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury, and he is the only direct witness to the shooting; in such circumstances, it would be very difficult for the prosecution to prove the lack of such a reasonable fear beyond a reasonable doubt (which is the burden of persuasion in Florida once the defendant raises a self-defense argument). So the "stand your ground" law has little direct relevance to the legal analysis of this case. Its greater relevance is the "trigger happy" atmosphere it creates in some persons, which can lead to tragic results, as in this case.

We also spoke with Clearwater attorney Stephen Romine. He's defended people on "Stand Your Ground" cases. He echoed Batey's analysis.

"You could make the same arguments under self-defense. This law doesn’t create a more dangerous scenario for people. It’s just another law that’s subject to abuse, just like self-defense laws."

Romine says "Stand Your Ground" fixed a problem in Florida law. People who legitimately used self-defense in public settings were being asked to justify why they did not try to flee.

Under previous law, if you faced a threat, you were required to retreat if you could. Under "Stand Your Ground," you no longer have a duty to retreat.

But Romine says the lawmakers who are defending the law are wrong to imply it doesn't apply to Zimmerman because he was following Martin.

"There’s no exception to stand your ground just because you approached somebody or followed somebody,” Romine said.

The main change is to law enforcement, he said. They face a lawsuit if they arrest someone who turns out to have a valid "Stand Your Ground" defense.