Governor Rick Scott's task force will meet today for the first time to examine Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law. The seventeen-member task force will receive public testimony throughout the state. After hearing this testimony and evaluating the statute, the task force will make recommendations to Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature.
So what should be done about this law: repeal or reform? Despite high emotions for an all-out repeal of the "stand your ground" right in the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, reform is probably the more appropriate route.
It remains important that the people of Florida feel confident in their right to defend themselves under the appropriate circumstances. At the same time, it is crucial that the people of Florida understand that deadly force must be used only as a last resort. I think that a return to the common law duty to retreat could be the best way to reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable goals.
Like Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, the common law duty of retreat recognizes every man's right of self-defense. However, the common law of self-defense requires a person to make a reasonable effort to retreat before employing deadly force. Under the common law, a person may not resort to deadly force without first exhausting every reasonable non-deadly means to avoid the danger.
To be clear, I believe that a "stand your ground" right should continue to exist in cases where a person is attacked in his or her home. But this is not inconsistent with the common law's "castle doctrine," which abrogates the duty to retreat when a person is attacked in his or her home.
But moving the "castle doctrine" out of the castle and into the streets clearly appears to have been a mistake. Trayvon Martin in Florida and Daniel Adkins, Jr. in Arizona are only the most recent victims of this mistake.