An examination of 200 cases in which Florida’s Stand Your Ground statue was invoked found that when the victim was black, the defendant in the case was allowed to escape conviction 73 percent of the time. In comparison, those who used the self-defense statue in cases with white victims walked free 59 percent of the time. All in all, the study conducted by The Tampa Bay Times found that more than two thirds of all those who invoked the law were acquitted, and that the use of the statue is on the rise.
Reporters from the Times offered their own stern critiques of their findings. “People often go free under ‘stand your ground’ in cases that seem to make a mockery of what lawmakers intended,” they wrote. “One man killed two unarmed people and walked out of jail. Another shot a man as he lay on the ground. Others went free after shooting their victims in the back. In nearly a third of the cases the Times analyzed, defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim — and still went free.”
Stand Your Ground is at the center of the nation’s biggest court case, the murder trial of George Zimmerman. When George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February, police did not arrest or detain Zimmerman in any form, believing they were following Stand Your Ground provisions. Police do not keep a record of instances when these provisions are followed, leading to a lack of comprehensive data on the statue.
By the letter of the law, Florida’s statue justifies the use of force in cases where the defendant “is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.” Early evidence has shown that Zimmerman had followed Martin on the night of the shooting, despite orders from a police dispatcher telling him not to. Whether or not Stand Your Ground can be applied when Zimmerman chose to follow Martin will be the centerpiece of the legal battle.
A poll conducted last month revealed that the majority Floridians still support the law, with 61 percent of whites voting in support. With 78 percent of Republicans—who are in control of the Florida legislature—in support of Stand Your Ground, reform may be far off.