Florida's "Stand Your Ground" Law Continues to Draw Debate

In most states, a person who is in fear of bodily harm or death from an attacker must retreat, if possible, before using deadly force in self-defense. That changed for Floridians in 2005, when Florida became the first state to pass a law holding that people can "stand his or her ground" and "meet force with force." Now, the National Rifle Association notes that 14 states have passed similar laws. Commonly known as "stand your ground" laws, Florida's law holds that:

  • If a person isn't doing anything illegal; and
  • Is attacked in a place he or she has a right to be; then
  • He or she has no duty to retreat and can use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm.

The consequences of the law can be dramatic. Early this year a seventeen year-old, Marqualle Woolbright, from Ocala, Florida, shot another unarmed teen with whom he had been fighting at a bowling alley. The fight moved to the parking lot, were Antonio "TJ" Lamar Gordon, Woolbright's opponent, eventually ended up entering into Woolbright's vehicle and beating another 13 year-old boy in the same car as Woolbright. Woolbright reached across two other boys in the car and fatally shot Gordon once, in the chest.

Before the 2005 law, Woolbright would likely have been charged with second-degree murder or manslaughter, a state attorney told the Ocala.com news website. That would mean a jury would have had to decide whether Woolbright acted in self-defense. Instead, the statute presumed that Woolbright acted in self-defense because Gordon entered the vehicle without permission. While there was some gray area to the law, because Woolbright did not have a legal right to possess the weapon, ultimately the prosecutors thought the statute covered Woolbright. Woolbright was charged with violating his juvenile probation by a misdemeanor possession of a firearm, and faces a maximum sentence of five years.

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If you are faced with gun possession or violent crime charges, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you defend your rights.