Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was meant to make sure that average residents could defend themselves without fear of arrest or trial. Police officers accused of using excessive force are trying to claim the law’s protection, the New York Times reports. They have tried to use the law to avoid trial in cases in which a 63-year-old man was stomped and a man in a wheelchair was beaten. In some instances, judges have granted their request. “The law says it applies to ‘any person,’” said Eric Schwartzreich, a lawyer representing a sheriff’s deputy who made a successful Stand Your Ground claim in the killing of a computer engineer. “Law enforcement is any person. Why would there be a law that applies to one person in the criminal justice system and not another?”
The law was opposed by prosecutors when it was passed in 2005. It eliminates a person’s duty to retreat from a dangerous situation and frees them to use deadly force “if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary” to prevent harm or death. It shields people from both criminal trials and civil lawsuits. Stand Your Ground became widely known in 2012, when Sanford, Fl., police cited it when they declined to arrest the killer of an unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin. Critics say the law makes it too easy to claim self-defense when violence could have been avoided, and that white people’s fears are more likely to be deemed “reasonable” than black people’s. Nearly two dozen states have such laws, but experts believe Florida is the only place where police officers have used it. Last week, lawyers said Nouman Raja, a former Palm Beach Gardens officer, intended to seek Stand Your Ground protection in the 2015 killing of Corey Jones, a 31-year-old musician and housing inspector.