Saturday, May 19, 2012

Is Florida's Stand Your Ground Law Constitutional ?

Trevon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman recently.  Mr. Zimmerman contends that he shot Trevon in self-defence and relies upon the State of Florida's Stand Your Ground Law(SYG) which allows individuals who believe their lives to be in danger to use deadly force to preserve themselves. While some of what transpired that night may be unknown the facts that we do know exposes a very serious problem with respect to the constitutionality of this state law - especially as it impacts on the lives of African-Americans like Trevon Martin. Trevon Martin was returning to his father's home following a walk to the corner-store to buy pop and candy for himself and his younger brother. He was unarmed and conducting himself within the law at all times. Mr. Zimmerman upon noticing Trevon actually called police and reported him behaving in a strange manner. Police expressly advised Mr. Zimmerman not to confront Trevon and they would attend to look into the matter. Phone records and evidence from Trevon's girlfriend indicate that he mentioned to her that someone was following him. Some minutes later Trevon is lying dead as a result of a bullet wound in the heart area from Mr. Zimmerman's gun. Mr. Zimmerman contends he was "attacked", engaged in a fight and he shot Trevon in self-defence to preserve his own life.

The Stand Your Ground Law passed by Florida State lawmakers has a litany of legislative defects which seriuosly call into question its constitutionality. On a practical level the law allows one individual to take the life of another based soledy on that individual's subjective belief in their need for self-preservation and without regard to who initiated the aggression and where.  Assuming that the objective of SYG law is to enable victims of crime to defend themselves in the face of grave danger the current law as it stands is arguably suffering from vagueness and over-breath issues.  The law as it currently stands is silent on delineating clear criteria to assess and evaluate the killer's fear.  In addition, it is one thing to be on the receiving end of an unprovoked, armed confrontation in one's home where one takes steps to preserve one's life and another matter where one initiates the violence in the public sphere and the victim is unarmed and a minor.  In the latter scenario the victim is deprived of life under color of law in circumstances where the state itself could not deprive the said individual of life.  The state would be subjected to the 4th Amendment requirements of due process with respect to seizures and security of the person. A state actor's use of force in the circumstances under which Trevon lost his life would most likley be determined to be excessive force and a violation of the 4th Amendment. 

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