In a recent editorial, The New York Times offered an array of Florida crime statistics to support the view that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is “nonsensical,” a “dangerous disaster,” and “a Wild West farce.” The editors cited a study of more than 200 cases by The Tampa Bay Times.
But a further review of the statistics indicates the NYT may not be factually correct in it’s interpretation of the numbers.
For starters, it’s never a good sign when your source, an allegedly authoritative study, caveats itself with: “The [Tampa Bay] Times relied on available information, some of which may not tell the whole story.”
Nonetheless, the NYT’s attempts to use the study to paint Florida as a lawless state devastated by its Stand Your Ground law. The editors assert: “[The law] has become an excuse for mayhem, used at least six times in drug deals gone lethal, 23 times in barroom fights . . . and 30 times in arguments turned violent.”
A quick examination of the Tampa Bay paper’s study revealed that the NYT’s was cooking its numbers.
In reality, of the seven “drug deals gone bad” cited by the NYT’s, three defendants were denied Stand Your Ground immunity by a judge, one defendant’s charges were dismissed on other grounds, one has a murder charge pending, and another plead guilty to a lesser charge. In only one of the seven cases was the potential defendant not arrested or charged with a crime.
Of the 24 “barroom fights” cited, only six defendants were granted immunity by a judge or had their charges dismissed by prosecutors. In the other 18 cases the judge either explicitly denied a defendant’s Stand Your Ground motion, the defendant was convicted, the case is still pending, or the case was resolved in some other way unrelated to Stand Your Ground.
Finally, out of 38 cases of “arguments turned violent,” only 16 resulted in no charges or grants of immunity by a judge. The other 22 defendants were either denied immunity by a judge, had their case dismissed or were acquitted for unrelated reasons, plead guilty to a lesser offense, or have cases still pending.
All in all, in these three categories, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law arguably helped resolve a case in a defendant’s favor in only four out of ten cases.
Even then, the study also makes the mistake of assuming that Stand Your Ground is to blame for all potential self-defense cases resulting in no charges or dismissal. A limited sampling of the cases revealed that many did not clearly implicate Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
Finally, a review of the cases suggests that numerous defendants who successfully avoided prosecution under the Stand Your Ground law could have also likely avoided prosecution, or at least been acquitted at trial, under the traditional self-defense doctrine.
All of this considered, the NYT’s broader claim that “7 in 10” people who invoked Stand Your Ground “have not been charged” is false. But don’t expect them to print a retraction any time soon.