Task Force To Consider 'Stand Your Ground' After Trayvon Martin Death

By: CNN (Posted by Carissa Fox)
By: CNN (Posted by Carissa Fox)

(CNN) -- Florida authorities have picked 17 people to tackle a heated question brought on by the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin: whether the state's "stand your ground law" should be changed.

The task force, whose membership was announced Thursday, will hear impassioned arguments and testimony from residents at public meetings across the state.

"We're not walking into this with any preconceived notions," Gov. Rick Scott said at a news conference. If there are "logical changes to be made," he said, the task force "will provide those."

It will pass along recommendations to the governor and the legislature.

The group will review Florida Statute Chapter 776, which deals with justifiable use of force, including the "stand your ground" provision.

The law allows people to use deadly force when they feel a reasonable threat of death or serious injury. Critics and defenders of the law have argued over just what it allows, when it applies, and whether it achieves its intended effect.

George Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch volunteer, fatally shot Martin on February 26. He has said the killing was in self-defense.

It is unclear how "stand your ground" may ultimately play out in his case. But the debate over the law's intent and its effect has already triggered a nationwide uproar.

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who is chairing the Task Force on Citizens Safety and Protection, said the "highly qualified" group includes people from "many different points of view" who are "racially, regionally, and professionally diverse."

The task force includes a retired judge, attorneys experienced in both prosecution and defense, and members of neighborhood watch programs. Two state representatives are on the task force, one of them the author of the "stand your ground" bill in the House, Carroll said. The list of 17 members also shows two state senators.

There are no representatives from the National Rifle Association on the task force, Carroll said in response to a question. But the task force will hear from people on various sides of the issues at public events throughout the state.

She said the government did not reach out to people to join the task force, but rather considered people who had contacted officials and said they wanted to be a part of it.

"We're going to engage the entire state of Florida to tell us the pros and cons, how they feel about these laws," said the Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr., who is serving as vice chair.

Officials announced a new website, flgov.com/citizensafety, which will offer updates and give residents resources to share their views.

Florida's crime rate is at a 40-year low, and "I want to keep it that way," Scott said. "If there's laws that are impacting that, where people don't feel comfortable, I want to know about it."

The list of 17 task force members includes a sheriff, a former Florida Supreme Court justice, and a leader of the League of United Latin American Citizens. Both Carroll and Holmes are African-American.

Trayvon Martin was African-American; Zimmerman is Latino. Questions of whether race played a role in the incident have been prominent in the uproar over the case.

Officials hope the task force will complete its work by the time of the state's next legislative session, so changes could be made then, she said.

A member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Michael Yaki of San Francisco, said last week he will ask that agency to investigate such laws.

Also Thursday, Sanford, the city where the shooting took place, has scheduled a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. so members of the public can discuss the shooting, according to the Sanford mayor's office.

The Trayvon Martin case has stirred civil rights activists nationwide and drawn intense publicity.

CNN poll: Most believe Zimmerman should have been arrested

A bond hearing for Zimmerman is scheduled for Friday, and the new judge in the case, Kenneth Lester Jr., will preside over the hearing, court officials said.

Seminole County Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler approved a motion Wednesday to disqualify herself after it was revealed that her husband works with a CNN legal analyst who has commented on the case.

Recksiedler said in her decision that while the findings on individual points were "legally insufficient" for disqualification, "the cumulative effect of the events and the totality of the circumstances provides a legally sufficient basis for this court to grant the motion to disqualify," a statement from the court said.

New judge 'no soft touch'

Wednesday's order directed the case to be returned to the chief judge, who in turn appointed Lester to preside over the Zimmerman case.

Lester has served on the circuit court since 1996. He is assigned to the criminal division but has previously served in the juvenile, delinquency, dependency, probate, guardianship and mental health divisions of the court.

A 2011 poll by the Central Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers rated Lester the top judge in the county in terms of legal knowledge and diligence. He had the second-highest overall score among Seminole County circuit judges in that survey, which also ranked the jurists for impartiality, freedom from bias, and demeanor.

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