Proposed Law Will Close "Stand Your Ground" Loophole, State Senator Says

State Sen. Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale) announced Monday that he was introducing legislation that would close a loophole in Florida's Stand Your Ground law.

It would prevent people from using it as a defense if they left a place of safety or chased someone, and it would also create "reasonable guidelines" for neighborhood watch officers (cough, George Zimmerman, cough).

This is the so-called "Stand Your Ground" law -- Florida Statute 776.013:

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

But critics of the law have pointed out that, if there are no witnesses, a shooter could lie and make up any story so a Stand Your Ground defense would fit.

"This law is neither working as intended nor protecting those it was intended to protect," Smith said in a statement.

Smith said his bill, SB 122, would stop "gang members, angry neighbors, and any other violent individuals from initiating deadly confrontations and then -- barring a witness -- claiming immunity from prosecution under Stand Your Ground. The 'Last Man Standing' escape hatch would finally close with the passage of this legislation."

From his news release:

Under Senator Smith's bill, the law "implies no license for the initiation of a confrontation," and immunity for anyone resorting to deadly force would not be allowed if the individual left a place of safety, or chased someone down. An aggressor who resorted to deadly force would need to prove that all reasonable means consistent with their safety to avoid danger had been used, and that steps were taken to avoid "taking a human life."

Additional provisions include lifting the restrictions on law enforcement's ability to investigate the use of force and the issuance of "reasonable guidelines" for neighborhood crime watch patrols and participants.

Pointing to another version of the bill rejected by the Republicans in the 2013 legislative session, Sen. Smith noted that SB 122 also contained a number of GOP-backed recommendations to fix acknowledged problems in the current Stand Your Ground statutes.

If there were no witnesses to a shooting incident, it's unclear how Smith's proposed law will help determine who was the aggressor.

In any case, the state Legislature doesn't meet until spring 2014, so we'll see if any other proposals come up.

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Deirdra Funcheon