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Lawyers fear ‘Stand Your Ground’ backlash


This news story was published on April 6, 2012.
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By David Ovalle, McClatchy Newspapers –

MIAMI — With the worldwide scrutiny of “Stand Your Ground” law after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, criminal-defense lawyers statewide fear that the widespread publicity will hinder their efforts in front of judges and juries in upcoming self-defense cases.

Sanford police cited the law when they did not arrest neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, 28, who fatally shot the 17-year-old Martin on Feb. 26 in Sanford.

Lawyers in unrelated cases will undoubtedly have to question potential jurors about the “Trayvon Martin Effect” or the “Trayvon Factor,” said Nellie King, president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“The climate could not be worse for those folks who have been arrested, yet have viable self-defense claims. Florida defense lawyers can only hope that jurists, as well as jurors, tasked with reviewing future Stand Your Ground claims will weigh the case-specific facts before them in an impartial manner against Florida’s law, irrespective of the larger issues being debated in this country,” she said.

Florida’s 2005 law eliminated the duty to retreat when confronted by an attacker, while allowing judges — well before a jury trial — to decide whether a defendant is immune from prosecution because he or she acted in self-defense.

Critics, including many police officers, say the law encourages vigilantes to shoot first and ask question later, while some prosecutors think that juries, not judges, should decide the self-defense question.

Zimmerman, who is white, shot and killed Martin, who was black, during a sidewalk scuffle inside a gated housing community just north of Orlando. Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor to review whether there is enough evidence to charge Zimmerman in the racially charged case.

The U.S. Justice Department is also examining the case and the police investigation for potential civil rights violations. The governor is also reviewing the law, as is a panel of elected officials.

Since the shooting, rallies and marches have dominated the news. President Barack Obama chimed in, saying that if he had a son, he would look like Martin.

Countless columnists, commentators and bloggers worldwide have spotlighted Florida’s self-defense law, one of more than 20 similar laws in states across the nation. More than 50 online petitions asking for the law’s repeal, signed by more than 2 million people, have also been created on Change.org.

In popular culture, Martin’s image — and criticism of the law — has exploded into the public consciousness. Miami Heat players posed for photos wearing hooded sweatshirts similar to one Martin wore the night he was killed.

The rock group Red Hot Chili Peppers, playing Monday in Sunrise, made a reference to the law, donning black hoodies with the phrase “Ode to Trayvon Stand What Ground” printed on the back.

It is against the backdrop of public backlash that Miami defense attorney David Macey is hoping to get a judge to grant immunity to his client, Cristobal Palacios, on a 2008 murder charge.

Miami-Dade police and prosecutors say Palacios, in cold blood and in a jealous rage, gunned down his ex-wife’s new husband outside Palacios’ Kendall home. Palacios’ ex-wife and husband, Paul Winter, had gone to the home to drop off Palacios’ young twins for a court-ordered week of custody.

Palacios claims he acted in self-defense outside his own home when he saw Winter reaching for something he thought was a weapon. Winter was unarmed.

Trial is scheduled for July, and Macey said that in selecting jurors, it will be “important to weed out the people who want to get revenge for Trayvon Martin.”

But, before that, a Miami-Dade judge will decide whether to dismiss the case based on the Stand Your Ground law.

“I’m fearful that there will be backlash and people who deserve the protection of the law will be denied because of the public pressure,” Macey said.

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