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Florida has clarified its "Stand Your Ground" law with a new bill, expanding its protection to warning shots as well as the use of actual force.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed HB89 on Friday, in part to prevent criminal convictions like that of Marissa Alexander -- the woman convicted of aggravated assault in 2013 for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband. Law professor Eugene Volokh writes for his blog (now part of The Washington Post) that it seems sensible for a law that justifies lethal force to "apply equally to defensive threats of force."
What's the harm in adding warning shots to "Stand Your Ground?"
History of 'Warning Shot' Law
This isn't the first time that Florida has attempted to clarify its laws by explicitly allowing a person to fire a defensive warning shot when in fear for his or her life. A similar bill failed to survive in 2013, but perhaps due to the political shift surrounding the Alexander case, HB89 has fared much better.
The law, like its predecessors, affirms that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law applies to those who use defense threats of lethal force (e.g., warning shots), assuming their actions would have been justified in using actual force.
HB89 also exempts those who fire warning shots from Florida's mandatory minimum sentencing for those who possess weapons while committing felonies. Florida's current "10-20-life" law permits those convicted of certain dangerous felonies who possessed weapons to be sentenced to a minimum of 10, 20, or 25 years to life in prison.
Under this law, since Alexander discharged her firearm during the alleged commission of aggravated assault (a dangerous felony), she would have faced at least 20 years in prison for her warning shot.
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Law Grants Clemency to Some Gun Offenders
Like many of the laws signed by Gov. Scott on Friday, the "warning shot" law became effective immediately upon the governor's signature. In addition to future cases being affected, the law will also apply retroactively, giving current gun offenders with "10-20-life" sentences a chance for clemency.
Those who brandished, fired, or even warned others of their possession of firearms during the commission of a felony may have their sentences commuted, sharply reducing them from the current mandatory minimums.
Many are still trying to convince Florida to clarify its "Stand Your Ground" laws, but this may not be the direction they'd hoped the law would take.