A legislative committee in Florida took a major step toward clarifying the state’s much debated “stand your ground” defense on Monday.
The committee approved restrictions on its use and clarified that the statute does not permit “vigilantism” by neighborhood watch activists.
The compromise deal between supporters of the original 2005 statute and critics who want the law repealed, provides that no-one who initiates a violent confrontation may claim protection under the law.
It also requires police to set forth rules for neighborhood watch groups, specifically providing that patrol volunteers may only notify police about suspicious persons and not pursue or confront them.
The proposal resulted from the acquittal last year of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman in central Florida who shot an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, to death. Zimmerman did not claim pre-trial immunity from prosecution under the ‘stand your ground’ self-defense clause, but the law allowing use of deadly force in situations of reasonable fear of injury was read to the jury in final instructions, creating confusion in the minds of some jurors.
The proposal also clarifies that a person shooting in self-defense will not be immune from civil suits by any innocent bystanders who are hurt.
A House criminal justice panel rejected an outright repeal of the law, so legislators in favor of the changes had to compromise.
The compromise was worked out between state Senator David Simmons (R), and Senator Chris Smith (D).
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