Public Safety & Justice

'Stand Your Ground' Amendment Would Expunge Some Court Records

March 20, 2014
 

Changes adopted Wednesday to a House bill expanding the scope of Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law would severely limit access to court records in the self-defense cases.

People found to have used justifiable force in a “stand your ground” hearing could apply to have all court records related to their case expunged and made unavailable to the general public, according to an amendment filed by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

Gaetz said the purpose of the amendment is to provide more privacy for those cleared of charges.

“The point is to make sure that someone who appropriately uses the ‘stand your ground’ defense doesn’t have their life ruined by the use of that defense,” Gaetz said.

Yet court records are instrumental for people trying to understand implications of the 2005 law. A 2012 Tampa Bay Times investigation reviewed 200 cases, including ones that wouldn’t be available if lawmakers approve the new language, and found that the law was used inconsistently and led to disparate results.

Gaetz, chair of the House Criminal Justice committee, said the proposal would not prevent the Times from conducting such an investigation because he claimed that the analysis was based on “media reports.”

“A court record review is not what generated those statistics,” Gaetz said.

Actually, the investigation was based on published newspaper reports, court records and documents obtained from prosecutors and defense attorneys to compile a partial list of self-defenses since 2005.

Gaetz said he had tried to do the same review and believed, instead, that the reporting was based entirely on media reports.

“But I’ll look into it,” Gaetz said. “It’s not the intent of the bill to limit our access to data regarding the use of the defense and crime statistics. At that extent, we’ll certainly take a look at it.”

He has until today, when the full House votes on HB 89, sponsored by Neil Combee, R-Bartow, which would allow people to fire warning shots in self defense without worrying about getting locked up for 20 years.

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