A Call for Change: A Contextual-Configurative Analysis of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Laws

BY ELIZABETH MEGALE, 68 U. Miami L. Rev. 1052 (2014).

Introduction: Public response to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin evidenced a drastic schism in community values. To some, the problem of “Stand Your Ground” represents purely a race issue that not only perpetuates endemic racial tensions amongst members of society, but also generally protects whites more often than blacks. On the other hand, some view the statutory scheme as a non-racist protection of individual liberties that makes the community safer. These two perspectives lie at the opposite ends of the spectrum, and both perspectives tend to oversimplify a complex issue.

In tracking the media coverage, protests, and commentary related to Florida’s most recent “Stand Your Ground” cases, it is readily apparent that the various interest groups and individuals weighing in are sharply divided. This disagreement occurs for two principle reasons. First, the participants embrace fundamentally different value structures, so their acceptance of the legitimacy of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law will naturally create dissonance. Second, most viewpoints being advanced are far too myopic to account for the multi-faceted issues presented by Florida’s version of “Stand Your Ground.”

This Article attempts to account for each of the competing viewpoints related to the statutory scheme. This author’s position is that in legalizing certain types of homicide by decriminalizing killings and other acts of violence involving self-defense, Florida has exchanged respect for human dignity with cold self-import. To examine the process by which this transformation occurred, this Article relies on a jurisprudential model, created by Yale professors Harold Lasswell and Myres McDougal, for the preservation of human dignity. It is important to note that this theory of legal inquiry was intended to be applicable to both micro and macro analyses, though most scholars have employed it as a tool for studying international law and politics. The peculiar feature of this model, however, is that it also specifically contemplates individuals, making it uniquely suited to the inquiry of any legal system.

As a central premise, it establishes that effective law requires the existence of both authority and control. Authority and control manifest when laws are created consistently with commonly held community values. By the same token, if a law is inconsistent with commonly held values, it may lose its authority, control, or both. In the case of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statutory scheme, this Article suggests that the turmoil following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the continuing media attention of other shooting deaths since that time illustrate the inconsistency between the law and relevant human values.

The legal theory mapped out by Lasswell and McDougal employs a discrete vocabulary attributing particularized meanings to words, which are sometimes inconsistent with common parlance. Throughout this Article, these terms will be defined in the words of the authors and used as intended within the jurisprudential context. The analytical framework creates a launching point with identification of an outcome relevant to a particular value situation. From there, pre- and post-outcomes can be determined. Once outcomes are identified, the community participants must be identified. The value situation is assessed by analyzing the participants, their values, and the strategies used to leverage their values to gain command over others and achieve a specific outcome and effect. Section II provides the background for this normative framework.

Section III applies this jurisprudential framework in the context of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statutes. It begins the legal analysis by identifying the decision to enact Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” as the central outcome giving rise to the present value situation. The pre- and post-outcomes will be analyzed together with the participants, their values, and strategies for leveraging to achieve the desired outcome. The effects will then be identified and interpreted to reach the conclusion that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is inconsistent with commonly held community values. Finally, Section IV concludes by examining the implications of the analysis and suggesting reforms for aligning the law with community values. Full Article.

Recommended Citation: Elizabeth Megale, A Call for Change: A Contextual-Configurative Analysis of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Laws, 68 U. Miami L. Rev. 1052 (2014).

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