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In Letter to Justice Dept., Senator Urges Probe Into Whether Controversial State Law Encourages Vigilantism And Causes Violent Crimes To Go Unprosecuted

23 States Now Have Some Version of ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law on Books

Schumer: ‘Laws Seem To Create More Violence Than They Prevent’


WASHINGTON, DC—U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) on Sunday called for the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the “Stand Your Ground” laws potentially at issue in the case of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. The law, which is on the books in close to two dozen states, has been criticized as a “Shoot First, Ask Questions Later” law because it gives individuals significant latitude to use deadly force whenever they feel threatened.


In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Schumer asked the Obama administration to probe whether “these laws are creating more violence than they are preventing” and “whether potential murders/manslaughters are going unprosecuted because these laws place unintended additional burdens on local police and prosecutors that encourage dismissals of otherwise problematic cases.”


“These laws seem to be encouraging vigilantism by allowing individuals to use deadly force as a first resort. We need to investigate these laws to see if they are causing local law enforcement to let violent crimes go unprosecuted,” Schumer said.


Overall, 23 states now have some type of law that now lessen an individual’s “duty to retreat” from a confrontation when out in public.


Schumer said these “Stand Your Ground” laws seem to cause situations to escalate into fatal incidents unnecessarily. In his letter, he cited a report by the Orlando Sentinel chronicling that in the five months after the law was passed in Florida, there were at least 13 shootings in Central Florida where self-defense was claimed. But only in one of these incidents was the person who was shot actually in possession of a weapon.


Schumer also expressed concern that, as may be the case in the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, local law enforcement too often errs on the side of not prosecuting someone if a “Stand Your Ground” defense may apply. Schumer said this burden on state and local prosecutors may be causing violent crimes to go unpunished.


A copy of Schumer’s letter to Holder appears below.


March 25, 2012


The Honorable Eric Holder

Attorney General

United States Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530-0001


Dear Attorney General Holder:


I write to request that the Department of Justice investigate whether “stand your ground laws,” such as Florida Statutes Section 776.012, are contributing to excessive and unnecessary use of deadly force.  As you know, Section 776.012 has recently been cited in the unfortunate shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was killed while walking back to the house of his father's fiancée after a trip to a convenience store. 


I am aware that the Civil Rights Division, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida are specifically investigating the Martin case.  I am, however, asking that a broader investigation be conducted as to whether: 1) these laws are creating more violence than they are preventing; and 2) whether potential murders/manslaughters are going unprosecuted because these laws place unintended additional burdens on local police and prosecutors that encourage dismissals of otherwise problematic cases.  There are approximately 23 states with laws that lessen the common law duty to retreat when a person is outside of their home.


In Florida, the number of justifiable homicides reported has skyrocketed since Section 776.012 went into effect.  In the five years before the law’s approval, Florida averaged 12 justifiable homicides a year, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. In the six years since, the average is 33.  The “stand your grand law” has been invoked in many atypical cases, such as where a man sprayed a vehicle carrying a known gang member with 14 bullets and a 2011 case where a man was cleared after stabbing a man in the head with an ice pick during a road rage incident.  


Moreover, many of these cases involve situations where the victim is unarmed.  The Orlando Sentinel reports that after Section 776.012 was passed, in the following five months, there were at least 13 shootings in Central Florida where self-defense was claimed. Out of six men killed and four more wounded in the cases, only one was armed.  Some Orlando-area police agencies have simply stopped investigating shootings involving self-defense claims and referred them directly to state prosecutors to decide.  And many cases where a shooter is claiming the “stand your ground” defense are not prosecuted, because many prosecutors are afraid of wasting resources in cases where the likelihood of conviction is so uncertain.


Given your duty to protect the public, your unique nationwide jurisdiction to conduct an investigation, and your authority to allocate federal resources to state and local law enforcement, I believe that you are warranted and justified in conducting an investigation as to whether these “stand your ground laws” are contributing to excessive uses of force and decreased prosecutions for killings throughout the United States.  I therefore urge you to commence such an investigation at the earliest possible instance.

I thank you for your attention to this important matter, and am eager to work with you to ensure that the federal government is doing everything it can to protect the public.



Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator      



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