In 2005, the State of Florida was one of the first in the country to enact self-defense legislation now commonly known as “Stand Your Ground” and sometimes also referred to as “No Duty to Retreat”.
7 years later, following the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012, the law fell under extreme scrutiny from the media and the nation. Less than 2 months after the incident the State created the Task Force on Citizens Safety and Protection to examine Chapter 776 of the Florida Statutes, which includes the controversial law.
In 2015, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the burden of proof in pre-trial hearings was on the defendant if they planned to claim that they were defending themselves in order to avoid prosecution on charges of violent acts.
Then, in 2017, then Florida Governor Rick Scott, who entered office a year before the Martin / Zimmerman incident, effectively nullified the high court’s ruling by signing into law a legislative bill which explicitly states that prosecutors, not defendants, have the burden of proof requirement in pretrial “Stand Your Ground” hearings.
Four months after the inauguration of Ron DeSantis as Governor of Florida in January 2020, the country experienced a summer of protests in major cities across the United States, sparked by the death of George Floyd. The protests often erupted into widespread vandalism, breaking and entering, larceny, robbery, looting, arson and assaults. The damage and destruction of businesses was especially difficult for owners, employees and patrons who were also dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and unheard-of restrictions which already had many businesses operating on severe restrictions and teetering on extinction.
In response to the summer of violence, in early November Governor DeSantis drafted a bill to extend the right to use deadly force against looters. Deemed as “anti-mob” legislation, the proposed laws expand “Stand Your Ground” to allow people to shoot looters.
The Miami Herald, which obtained a copy of the draft through a public information request, reports that the bill expands the list of “forcible felonies” currently included in Florida’s self-defense law to include criminal mischief resulting in “interruption or impairment” of a business.
The document defines “looting” as burglary within 500 feet of a violent or disorderly assembly. Another section makes blocking traffic during a protest a third-degree felony and gives drivers immunity if they accidentally injure or kill protestors who are involved in the blockade. Several other clauses increase the criminal penalty for individuals who participate in violent or disorderly assemblies and would withhold state funding from communities who cut law enforcement funding.
The bill has been passed to the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice and has not been introduced in either the House or Senate. It has, however, already come under fire. Denise Georges, a former Miami-Dade County prosecutor experienced in “Stand Your Ground” cases stated that “It allows for vigilantes to justify their actions.”
DeSantis is making good on a long-standing promise to introduce the “strongest pro-law enforcement, anti-rioting, anti-looting legislation anywhere in the country”.
In an incident that appears to be at least partially related to the Governor’s recent actions Palm Beach County authorities arrested Karen Jones, 55, of Lantana, Florida on Saturday, November 14th, for a social media post in which she stated that she was going to shoot Florida’s Governor and two State Senators.
The post, which appeared on Twitter, said “DeSantis, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio are looting my state. Imma shoot them.”
Jones said that her tweet was meant as a joke. She was charged with three counts of intimidation for sending written threats to kill, which is a second-degree felony under Florida law, and released on bond Sunday afternoon after an overnight stay in jail.
This one definitely bears watching, folks.