Democratic Leader: Battered Women Not Protected By ‘Stand Your Ground’

May 21, 2012

Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith has ratcheted up criticism of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, pointing to a loophole that could endanger some women, rather than protect them.

Smith’s remarks came in response to a recent case in which a Jacksonville woman was sentenced in a domestic assault case.

Smith said the law – which allows people to shoot back when threatened without a duty to retreat – could actually end up making domestic violence victims more vulnerable.

Smith, an attorney, said the “stand your ground” law affords domestic violence victims fewer rights than they had before it was passed in 2005 – unless they have an injunction for protection.

“An invited guest is considered a ‘resident’ under the law,” he wrote in a recent analysis. “This means that as soon as a woman invites her ex-husband to pick up their children at her home, she is powerless to defend herself, even if she holds sole title to the property. Given that most attacks happen at home, by relatives or individuals known to the victim, this loophole in the law is unconscionable.”

While the Trayvon Martin killing that has brought the stand your ground self defense law into new focus in Florida involved two young men, Martin and shooter George Zimmerman, some of the focus on the need for a lenient self defense law has begun to focus on the needs of women.

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz and his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, both Republicans, made that claim in a recent editorial headlined: “Calls to repeal Stand Your Ground are anti-woman.:

“Consider an elderly woman in a dimly lit parking lot or a college girl walking to her dorm at night,” they wrote in the May 2 Northwest Florida Daily News in Fort Walton Beach. “If either was attacked, her duty was to turn her back and try to flee, probably be overcome and raped or killed. Prior to Stand Your Ground, that victim didn’t have the choice to defend herself, to meet force with force.”

Both Gaetz senior, R-Niceville, and Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala and House sponsor of the measure, dismissed concerns by Smith that for other women, the law makes things worse.

“Sen. Smith’s been working too hard,” said Baxley. “He needs to let the Citizen Safety and Protection Task Force, which has a lot of smart people on it, complete their work before he starts proposing changes to statute.”

The Citizen Safety and Protection Task Force was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to review the “stand your ground” law following Martin’s death Feb. 26 in Sanford in a case that has drawn international attention.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, entered a not-guilty plea after remaining free for five weeks – until the case had become a national controversy.

Now, after an organizational meeting earlier this month, the Scott task force is slated to hold its first public hearing in Sanford on June 12. Baxley is a member of the panel, which has been criticized for including him and two other lawmakers who voted for the “stand your ground” law – plus a fourth, Jason Brodeur, who was elected in 2010 and sponsored last year’s law banning doctors from asking patients about guns in their homes.

The panel’s chair, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, also voted for “stand your ground” while a House member. There are no known gun-control advocates on the panel.

Smith did not wait for Scott to name his panelists before creating a separate, South Florida-based task force that recommended changes to “stand your ground” last month. These included grand jury involvement, public education, and a self-defense claims tracking system.

On Friday, Smith also said a domestic violence exemption should be part of the overhaul.

He said he was “very surprised” to discover the domestic violence provision last week after 31-year-old Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville was sentenced in an assault case for firing a shot at her husband during a dispute in their home when she said she was under attack.

Using a “stand your ground” defense, Alexander rejected a plea bargain, lost her case and received a 20-year sentence under a mandatory minimum law for gun crimes.

“I immediately thought how Gaetz and others are talking about poor, helpless women defending themselves,” said Smith. “More women are attacked in their homes than in the Publix parking lot.”

The Gaetzes wrote that “[i]mposing a duty-to-flee (puts) the safety of the rapist above a woman’s own life. In fact, until Stand Your Ground was passed, criminals were suing victims because victims, in protecting themselves, were allegedly using excessive force against the criminals.”

Gaetz senior called Smith a good friend and a good lawyer.

“If he believes that there’s a way that we can strengthen Second Amendment protections for battered women, I’m all ears, and I can’t wait for him to introduce the legislation,” Gaetz said.

The discussion comes as Republicans and Democrats are locked in a national debate about which party better supports women.

In the case of Marissa Alexander, Jacksonville Congresswoman Corrine Brown, a Democrat, called on the U.S. Department of Justice to study whether “stand your ground” is applied fairly.

Meanwhile, the Gaetzes also saw a role for stand your ground in the national debate.

“Riding the extreme rhetoric of Al Sharpton and encouraged by the ‘concerns’ of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, anti-gun groups have already declared ['stand your ground'] guilty of murder and sentenced it for repeal by the Florida Legislature,” wrote the Gaetzes in their op-ed.

Baxley said other laws might be more applicable to domestic violence cases than “stand your ground.”

“I think what we’re figuring out is – case by case – sometimes it applies and sometimes it doesn’t.

“I am going to continue to be very cautious about doing anything to ["stand your ground"] that would diminish law-abiding citizens from defending themselves,” he said.

By The News Service of Florida


18 Responses to “Democratic Leader: Battered Women Not Protected By ‘Stand Your Ground’”

  1. Brad Hankerson on May 25th, 2012 11:23 am

    Domestic violence and stand your ground go hand and hand. The repeal of the law is a stretch. In domestic violence cases, usually the aggressor has a control issue that can be measured. Often there is a track record of previous violence. However, these cases can be marred with circumstance unrelated to the actual violence itself. Women, as well as men, should be protected from acts of violence.

  2. David Huie Green on May 22nd, 2012 10:07 pm

    “Our Republican Congress has let the old “Violence against women act” expire ”

    We don’t have a Republican Congress. We have a split Congress — majority Democrat Senate, majority Republican House of Representatives. No supermajorities anywhere although a Democrat for President so vetoes less likely and supermajorities unneeded.

    For better or for worse, that was the will of the people.

    David for general agreement
    on all enacted legislation,
    not just bullying parties

  3. Henry Coe on May 22nd, 2012 7:55 am

    Our Republican Congress has let the old “Violence against women act” expire and have created a bill to replace it that doesn’t protect women. I doubt it will pass the Senate or get signed into law, which is probably a political strategy by House Republicans so they can say “Democrats are against protecting women”, which isn’t true, but that’s what House Republicans do with legislation, they use for political manipulation, not for the needs of the people.

    That being said, Florida needs to protect it’s Citizens and pass Laws that might not be there any more to protect women or really any spouse of significant other is any relationship of a Domestic nature, whether two intimate people or just friends that share a dwelling.

  4. David Huie Green on May 21st, 2012 9:35 pm

    @ David I never agree with you but today YES100%.”

    I’ll fix that:

    The problem is that Marissa Alexander left living witnesses (her children and husband) to dispute her claims.


    “The husband of Marissa Alexander said Wednesday it was her violent nature, not his, that ultimately landed her 20 years in prison.
    “I never put my hands on Marissa Alexander,” said 36-year-old Rico Gray, accompanied by his 12-year-old son when he spoke with the media Wednesday at the State Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville.
    - – -
    He said it was Alexander, 31, who first began punching him – - – - he put his hands up in defense “buying time” for his two sons to gather their belongings so he could take them and leave. But when he made the remark that their newborn baby must be fathered by her ex-husband, he said she immediately stopped.
    “She said, ‘I got something for your — —,’ and walked away,” Gray said. – - –
    “When she came back inside, the first thing I saw was her putting one [a bullet] in the chamber,” he said.
    Gray said by the time his kids had come to his side to leave, she had the gun pointed at him.
    “As soon as I took my eyes off Marissa, that’s when I heard the gunshot,” Gray said.
    He said he never looked back, grabbing the children and running out of the house and down the street.
    Alexander was charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. A judge denied her immunity in a Stand Your Ground hearing in 2011. In March a jury took just 12 minutes to find her guilty.”

    The judge and jury didn’t agree that she was justified.

    David for better examples

  5. bob hudson on May 21st, 2012 8:16 pm

    I am sorry in a earlier post I made refferance , to an Chris Brown, it should have been Democrat Sen. Chris Smith. Contact number- Tallahassee Florida, 1-850-487-5112 Senate-VOIR -5112. Tell him what you think. I have.

  6. sam on May 21st, 2012 7:05 pm

    hitting what you’re aiming at. that’s gun control i can believe in. stand your ground is a great law.

  7. Sandie Sellers on May 21st, 2012 6:21 pm

    @ David I never agree with you but today YES100%. .

  8. Maggie Jackson on May 21st, 2012 5:30 pm

    I would rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.

  9. bob hudson on May 21st, 2012 4:00 pm

    Of course the anti gun groups hate our law. Please feel free to check out their websites. They distrust any one who is and independent thinker. Never trust a political figure that endorses gun-control. That in its self says ,you are to stupid to defend your self, you need to let the government do it for you. And we should trust some one, or any one that thinks this way???????

  10. bob hudson on May 21st, 2012 3:41 pm

    In reality, Fla, in on the for front of giving the people back the right of protecting them selves. There is nothing wrong with laws that state, if you attack some one, car jack some one, or you intend to do do a home invasion, you can be killed. So what is wrong with that? Nothing. Every human being can make choices. No excuse’s, To threaten a human life is a personal decision, you threaten a life be prepared to lose yours. Millions of us go thru life working , being good citizens, taking the good and the bad, and do not resort to crime or violence. So it is time to give those who wish to go down this road some thing to think about. Time for them to think, is this worth it? And the stand your ground law protects all of us. Just as it will punish all those who wish to do harm to others. God Bless all those in law enforcement who do their best to protect us. They have their hands full.

  11. 429SCJ on May 21st, 2012 2:10 pm

    If people took the time to check out the people they marry, rather than just jumping on the first thing that comes floating by, there would be less domestic violence.

    Better to stand alone on your own, than to introduce some psycho into your life, n an
    attempt to find someone to solve your problems.

    Prevention, rather than cure.

  12. jeeperman on May 21st, 2012 12:38 pm

    The SYG law did not protect Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville from a conviction.
    Because the dispute happened inside her home, she then exited the home and retrieved a handgun from her car.
    Re-entered her home and shot her ex.
    SYG law clearly does not apply in her favor.

  13. bob hudson on May 21st, 2012 10:19 am

    Well, well, seems Mr.Smith has teamed up with one of the most anti-gun people in this country, Mayor Bloomberg to try to repeal the stand your ground laws in this state and in this country . So you see he is not worried about defenseless woman, he is not worried about any thing but denying all of us the right to defend our selves. Please feel free to search Mr.Chris Browns stance on gun control. Just like a liberal, its not what they say they want , its about what they really wish to do. Feel free to call Mr.Smith and tell him to leave our gun laws alone I did.

  14. bob hudson on May 21st, 2012 10:00 am

    As with any law or shooting, look at the evidence , learn the facts,then make the right call. And keep the media in the dark till all the facts are known. Seems that there are those in the media that do not care about the facts, and will use any news to push their own agenda. I love this law and it should NOT be change,Now, if you wish to expand this law, and cover domestic crimes look at how many threats have been made, and look at the whole issue, of what entails domestic violence.Oh yea do not forget to use some common when adding to this law.It is very sad when you read some , media outlets, who are suppose to report the news, take it twist it to what they want it to say. At which point you may ask, Why do we need them?

  15. Doug on May 21st, 2012 9:57 am

    Florida is the butt of every joke concerning this type of law. We did a poor job of writing it, and even savvy lawyers have different interpretations of the law as it is currently written. Good luck figuring this one out… a lot more people are going to die before it is fixed (whether it’s self defense or not – depends on how good your lawyer is at selling your side of the story). The big problem is what one person “reasonably believes” is completely different from another. For example, I look at an unarmed Trevon Martin and I don’t “reasonably believe” he is a real threat even if he attacks me. I’m 6′4″, 250lbs, and trained by the military for hand to hand combat – to my knowledge Geroge Zimmerman is not. Just saying…

  16. David Huie Green on May 21st, 2012 9:34 am

    “An invited guest is considered a ‘resident’ under the law,” he wrote in a recent analysis. “This means that as soon as a woman invites her ex-husband to pick up their children at her home, she is powerless to defend herself, even if she holds sole title to the property. Given that most attacks happen at home, by relatives or individuals known to the victim, this loophole in the law is unconscionable.”

    Officer: Did you invite him into your home?

    Lady: No, I didn’t.

    Officer: Did you fear for your life?

    Lady: Yes, I did.

    Officer: Have a nice day.

    David imagining SYG conversation

  17. BOGIAN on May 21st, 2012 8:41 am

    I think the Senator should read the statute…

    From the website of the Florida Legislature:

    “776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:
    (1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony”

    According to the Senator, if you invite someone to your house, they can murder you and there is nothing you can do about it. If you read further, there are laws discussing a presumption of fear and some other aspects of these kinds of confrontations. I encourage everyone to have a look at the laws of your State instead of assuming that someone’s position as a Senator means that they know everything (or anything).

  18. Jane on May 21st, 2012 7:40 am

    1. Fix the law.
    2. Have the Ex pick the kids up somewhere else.
    3. Get a restraining order, and call the police if it is violated, before he tries to get in the house (or where ever you are)!

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