Independent Florida Task Force Asks For Major Changes to "Stand Your Ground"

State Senator Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale gave the recommendations to Gov. Scott Monday

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    State Senator Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, delivered the recommendations of his task force to Gov. Rick Scott, above, and legislative leaders Monday.

    An independent task force wants major changes, but not an outright repeal, of Florida's "stand your ground" law after the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin.

    State Sen. Chris Smith, the organizer of the group, delivered the recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders on Monday.

    Smith said the group — which included prosecutors, defense attorneys, police chiefs and law professors — could not reach a consensus on whether to get rid of the seven-year-old law that allows a person to meet force with force if they reasonably believe they are in danger of being killed or seriously harmed. The law removed a duty to retreat that previously was in the state's self-defense law.

    "We took an adult look at 'stand your ground," Smith said. "We had adult discussions, not political, but adult discussions on 'stand your ground.'"

    Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman said he acted in self-defense when he killed Martin earlier this year in Sanford. A special prosecutor, however, charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder following weeks of outcry and protests. Zimmerman has posted bail and is currently in hiding as he awaits trial on the charges.

    Smith, a critic of the existing law, put together his own task force to look at the law after complaining that Scott was waiting too long to respond to the Martin killing. A separate task force assembled by the governor is scheduled to hold its first meeting in Tallahassee on Tuesday.

    Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said he would a sponsor in the bill in the Florida Legislature that includes the changes recommended by his group, including one that requires that a grand jury and not a prosecutor determine whether "stand your ground" can be used to avoid arrest.

    Smith's group also called for creating a system to track self-defense claims in Florida and to make it clear that the police can detain and question someone even if the person contends they were acting in self-defense. Smith said the law is now ambiguous on whether police are allowed to detain a suspect.

    The 21-page report by Smith's group includes recommendations that either had unanimous support, or a supermajority. Smith noted that only a simple majority supported a repeal of the stand your ground law and that he would not "waste" the time of the GOP-controlled Legislature or public by sponsoring a bill to repeal the law.

    One recommendation that received a supermajority — but not unanimous agreement — was that police should be allowed to charge someone if the person killed was unarmed or was in the process of running away. Martin was unarmed when Zimmerman shot him.

    Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala and a sponsor of the 2005 'stand your ground' law, said he's not surprised that Smith's group came up with recommendations to overhaul the law.

    Baxley said he wanted the governor's task force to stay on its mission to look at all of the state's self-defense laws.

    "The mission is not to have a kangaroo court and say's what wrong with stand your ground," said Baxley, who is a member of the governor's task force. "The importance of the mission is to review public safety and protection."

    Other task force members said they could not comment until they had a chance to read Smith's report.

    But Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, said that he would be interested in anything to make "Florida a safer place" as long as it did not diminish the ability of Floridians to defend themselves or their families.

    Smith on Monday repeated his push to have the Florida Legislature deal with the state's self-defense laws in a special session instead of waiting until next year's legislative session. He said the law continues to be "used and misused" throughout courtrooms and remains fearful of "copycat" crimes similar to what happened to Travyon Martin.

    Smith also wanted to present his group's recommendations to the Scott-created task force at its first meeting. But Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who is leading the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, turned down his request.

    Her letter to Smith says it would be unfair to let him speak since no one else from the public is scheduled to address the group. She instead offered him to make a presentation in June.

    "I guess I'll attend and maybe it put it on their windshield wipers on their cars campaign style afterwards," Smith said.