Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford sees no reason to change "Stand Your Ground" law

Posted By on Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 2:45 PM

Today, in the Orlando suburb of Lake Mary, police say they are continuing to investigate a possible domestic violence incident involving George Zimmerman and his wife. They said there may be a video of what actually happened captured on an iPad. The Orlando Sentinel reported that the smashed tablet will be a "key component" for police in deciding who they might charge.

Meanwhile, the Florida law that Zimmerman helped make world famous after his 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin β€” "stand your ground" (SYG) β€” was discussed by Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford on Tuesday afternoon.

Speaking at a Suncoast Tiger Bay meeting at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater, Weatherford touched on the 2005 law twice during a Q-and-A with audience members. Emphasizing that he has an open mind about the legislation (voted in before he joined the Legislature), the speaker said he wanted to hear from members of the public safety community at the subcommittee hearing scheduled for some time this fall that will be chaired by Matt Gaetz. But some of his comments seemed to indicate he's already convinced the current law is just fine.

"Is it working? It is not working?" he asked. He said he wants to hear from state attorneys, public defenders, judges, and the sheriff's association, which he said voted twice to maintain the law as written. "My personal opinion is I don't think we need to change it, but I'm willing to have a debate on it."

In an op-ed published in the Tampa Tribune last month, Weatherford wrote, "Although it is appropriate to review our laws, we will not back down a single inch from our citizens' ability to protect themselves."

Tiger Bay member Jerri Evans cited that piece when she asked the speaker if he really believes that the authors of the bill intended "for people to shoot people in public places other than their home?"

Weatherford explained that SYG has flipped the law's previous "Duty to Retreat" from an armed conflict on its head. That theory he said, put the onus on the man or woman who is confronted by a gunman. He said if they didn't retreat from that situation, they were at fault.

"Now I'm the first to admit, I read the Tampa Bay Times stories, there's some really troubling stuff there. The question is: Is it the law that's troubling or the application of the law that's troubling? What is it? And that's what the hearing is about. We're going to find that out."

The Times series on SYG, published in 2012 , analyzed almost 200 cases involving the "stand your ground" provisions and found that defense attorneys are using the law in ways that make a mockery of what lawmakers intended.

Weatherford added that he couldn't say whether it is the law or the application that's been the problem, because "I'm not a lawyer."

An unsatisfied Evans interrupted to ask what Weatherford thinks the law's intent is.

Weatherford then repeated that based on a majority of sheriff's in the state supporting the law, "it's hard for me to change my opinion and say we should (change the law)."

Afterwards a frustrated Evans told CL, "I don't think he really answered the question about his opinion and the intent of the law. I wanted to know if he truly believed that the intent was to go outside your own home to protect yourself in a public location."

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