Originally posted Monday, July 16, 2012.
When 28-year-old George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin and argued the Stand Your Ground law, saying he was protecting himself, the application of the law came under question and scrutiny. Despite the controversy, though, most Floridians say they think the law shouldn't be changed.
According to a Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 exclusive statewide poll, 64 percent of registered voters said they support the law, and even almost half of those who say they oppose it say they would really just like to see it modified. Only 18 percent of those polled said they want to see the law repealed.
The law, which was passed in 2005, says a person is justified to use deadly force to defend himself/herselt if he/she reasonably believes such force is necessary to prevent imminent death, great bodily harm or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
A citizen has no duty to retreat, and if it is determined that the use of force was justified, he/she is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action. The Stand Your Ground law does not apply if the victim initially provokes the use of force of if used in a felony crime.
The law receives the least amount of support in southeast Florida, where only 55 percent support it and 27 percent want to see it repealed.
In Tampa Bay, voters generally want to keep the law either as it's written or with some modification. Sixty-seven percent support it, 22 percent want it modified, and only 10 percent want to see it thrown out.
Central Florida shows similar numbers: 65 percent support, 18 percent want it modified and 14 percent want it repealed.
Tampa lawyer Joe Caimano is on the governor's task force for public safety and is going around the state getting feedback from the public about Stand Your Ground. He says he's not surprised that so many people are in favor of it.
"Based on what I've seen in the past few months, the overwhelming sentiment is, everyone agrees we should be able to protect ourselves when met with force," Caimano said. "But there are some people that feel they are unclear as to what the Stand Your Ground element of the statute is and whether or not that should be in the statute itself."
The poll showed a divide along racial lines with 38 percent of black voters saying they want the law done away with and only 27 percent supporting it as it is written.
For George Zimmerman, the argument was not an entirely successful one. A special state prosecutor disagreed that the law was applicable to his case and charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder.
Despite that, Floridians still say based on what they've heard about the case, Zimmerman was defending himself under the law.
Forty-four percent of voters polled said they side with Zimmerman. Another 40 percent say his actions could not be defended under the law and 16 percent remain unsure.
Caimano said much of the criticism of the law he's heard is from people who have not read the law or do not understand it. He said there's a lot of confusion, even among law enforcement as to when it can be used legally.
He says as the law is written, it has been fair.
"My experience with the law has been that it will help people when the facts should help them and when the law should help them, and it doesn't apply and give immunity to people when it shouldn't," Caimano said.
Here again, race plays a big role in Zimmerman's defense. About half of white and Hispanics, 50 percent and 52 percent, respectively, say he was justified. Although more Hispanics say they're not sure, 25 percent compared to only 15 percent of whites who aren't convinced either way. But among black voters, 82 percent said Zimmerman's actions do not fall under the law.
Based on his experience on the task force so far, Caimano says three things are needed: education, clarity and fairness.
"I think it's supposed to help people who are in a place where they are legally allowed to be and are not confronting people or the initial aggressor of hostile situations," Caimano said.
He says before people criticize the law, they need to read the law carefully and understand what it says because, Caimano believesm some changes may be made, but this law is likely to be around for a long time.
QUESTION: Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law states that a person is justified to use deadly force to defend themselves if they reasonably believe that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death, great bodily harm or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. A citizen has no duty to retreat and if it is determined that their use of force was justified they are immune from criminal prosecution and civil action.
The “Stand Your Ground” law does not apply if the victim initially provokes the use of force or if they are involved in a felony crime.
Do you support or oppose keeping Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law as it is currently written?
(IF “OPPOSED” OR “NOT SURE”) Do you feel Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law should be modified to permit its use in fewer situations, or do you feel the law should be repealed in its entirety?
The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, Inc. of Jacksonville, Florida from July 9 - July 11, 2012. A total of 800 registered voters were interviewed by telephone. The margin of error is +/-3.5%.