Florida’s Stand Your Ground Laws Just Got Expanded

Getty Images

Editor’s update: Florida Governor Rick Scott signed this bill into law on June 20, 2014.

After an extensive campaign to repeal Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, the state legislature just passed a bill that would not only leave the previous law untouched, but expand it in a significant way.

The newly expanded policy would not only include protection for those who shoot someone, but those who fire warning shots.

The legislation was inspired by the case of Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing three warning shots when she says that her husband who had a history of physically abusing her was threatening her during an altercation.

Alexander attempted to invoke the Stand Your Ground law, but the state prosecutor wouldn’t hear it. She was sentenced to 20 years in jail, but was granted an appeal and was released on bond while she awaits a new trial. She is set to be retried by the same prosecutor, and could face up to 60 years in prison.

Alexander could not invoke a Stand Your Ground defense because it does not apply to warning shots — and she didn’t actually shoot her husband. In Florida, shooting and killing someone was apparently a better legal defense than trying to avert violence by firing a warning shot. That twisted logic is the reason, critics say, that the state was unable to bring murder charges on the notorious cases of George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn, while Alexander faces jail time.

The new bill would potentially help Alexander and others in similar circumstances.

Insiders expect State Governor Rick Scott to sign the NRA sponsored bill in the coming days, and the Republican run legislature in the state capital is elated.

Ciara Taylor, political director for the Dream Defenders, an advocacy group that has worked tirelessly to change Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, said that this bill is moving the state in the wrong direction.

“Basically, instead of taking the time to review the [existing] law, our lawmakers are expanding the way that residents can react to situations violently,” Taylor told Fusion. “They just stuck this bill on to a law that has already caused trouble in our community, instead of talking rationally about mandatory minimum sentences that would help [cases like Alexander’s].”

The bill is also facing criticism for an amendment that would allow anyone who is found innocent after invoking Stand Your Ground to have their record expunged. Those who supported the bill say that it is intended to protect the innocents’ privacy, while others say that those records are crucial to understand the ramifications of the controversial law.

“The only way we could have any debate [on Stand Your Ground] is because of the newspapers who review cases and track it,” Florida Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale told the Tampa Bay Times. “With this bill, it makes it harder to track these cases. Why would we tie our hands in knowing what happens in these cases?”

All the parts of the Stand Your Ground laws that had the nation up in arms during the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case remain untouched.