Rick Scott: Take time on Trayvon Martin case, don't speed up task force

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Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t want to rush the investigation into the shooting of Trayvon Martin and won’t expedite the work of a task force that will examine the state’s self defense law, a spokesman said Tuesday, reports David Royse of the News Service of Florida.

State Sen. Chris Smith, the incoming leader of the Democratic caucus in the Senate, had urged Scott to speed up the planned work of the task force created by Scott to review the state’s 2005 “stand your ground” self defense law, which now appears like it may be used in the defense of George Zimmerman, if he is charged.

Zimmerman shot Martin under still unclear circumstances a month ago in Sanford, in Seminole County. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, is claiming self defense, his lawyer said over the weekend, and hasn’t been arrested.

The shooting, though, has gained national attention. Martin, 17, wasn’t armed and was returning to a home where he was staying when Zimmerman followed him before the confrontation that ended with Martin’s death. Zimmerman’s lawyer and a family friend, have said publicly in recent days that Zimmerman was attacked by Martin, and shot him only after being jumped.

But Martin, who was black, has become a symbol in the last couple of weeks for frustrations by many black Americans with the justice system, and in Tallahassee the case has drawn new attention to the state’s self defense law. It was changed in 2005 to say that people who feel they’re under attack have the same rights in the street that they have in their home: that is, they may fight back first, including the use of deadly force, with no duty to try to avoid the confrontation.

That so-called “stand your ground” law was highly controversial when passed in 2005 and signed into law by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. And it is again. Several lawmakers have called for a new look at that law in the wake of Martin’s death, and Scott last week agreed to create a task force that will take testimony on issues surrounding the law, as well as the Trayvon Martin case in general.

But the panel won’t begin its work until after a state’s attorney has completed an investigation into the case, which could take as long as a year. Smith said in a letter to Scott on Tuesday that that’s too long to wait to decide whether the Legislature may need to change the law.

“The questionable incidents and lives lost under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law did not begin, nor do I expect it to end, with the tragedy in Sanford,” Smith wrote to Scott. “While the special prosecutor sets about unraveling the facts in the case, and whether self defense was a legitimate factor, the law remains intact – with all the same components still in place for more killings and additional claims of self defense, warranted or not.”

Smith asked Scott to quickly call lawmakers into session to address the issue – many of them are set to leave the Legislature in November, and legislators don’t currently have any planned meetings before then. They ended a special session on redistricting on Tuesday.

“I also call upon you to convene within 30 days a special session so that the Legislature can have its voice heard as to the parameters critical to a civilized society,” wrote Smith, of Fort Lauderdale.

Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, also called for a special session. Taylor said he was troubled by the way that the law was used in the Martin case – with police deciding not to arrest Zimmerman, rather than having him make his claim to a judge – and the lack of any procedures for how to apply the law.

“That has to be revisited and it needs major, major overhaul or repeal,” Taylor said.

But Scott spokesman Lane Wright said state attorney Angela Corey – who was specially assigned the case by Scott – is working on it now and “he is not going to ask her to rush through the investigation.

“We still don’t know the effect the stand your ground law might have in this case, so it would be premature to begin evaluating facts when more facts are yet to emerge,” Wright said. “Gov. Scott believes we need to be thoughtful and thorough as we deal with this awful tragedy and for those reasons he will not interfere with the investigation or prematurely expedite the work of the task force.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.