Human Rights Clinic Participates in ABA National Task Force Hearing on Stand Your Ground Law

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On October 17, 2013, the American Bar Association’s (ABA) National Task Force on Stand Your Ground laws held a public hearing in Miami. Amongst the illustrious list of invited speakers was Miami Law Human Rights Clinic student Charlotte Cassel. Cassel spoke about the application of the Stand Your Ground law to victims of domestic violence belonging to ethnic and racial minorities and framed the issue in terms of international human rights.

Human Rights Clinic students, Charlotte Cassel, Dan Kinney, Max Tsoy, and James Slater, attend the ABA National Task Force on Stand Your Ground laws

The ABA Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws was created to review and analyze state Stand Your Ground laws that have recently received increased attention for their potential impact on public safety, individual liberties, and the criminal justice system. The hearing featured a number of prominent community leaders, regional stakeholders, legal experts, and policymakers who presented their testimonies regarding the impact of the Stand Your Ground law in Florida. The speakers addressed a wide range of issues related to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law: the utility of the law from legal and policy perspectives, the impact of the law on public safety, the impact of the law on traditionally marginalized communities and racial and ethnic minorities, and the impact of the law on criminal justice system.

Cassel, a third-year student in the Human Rights Clinic, presented the Clinic’s report to the United Nations on Domestic Violence, Gun Violence, and Stand Your Ground Laws, arguing that the discriminatory application of stand your ground laws in Florida constitutes a human rights violation. The Clinic and other organizations submitted the report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in anticipation of the review of the United States' compliance with its treaty obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. “This was a great opportunity for the Clinic to explain why Stand Your Ground laws do not just discriminate against certain vulnerable groups, but why the application of these laws is, in fact, a violation of basic human rights,” said Cassel.

Cassel also discussed the case of Marissa Alexander, an African-American victim of domestic violence who shot a warning shot at the wall while defending herself from her abusive husband. Alexander was not allowed to claim a Stand Your Ground defense and was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 20 years. Alexander’s case has been recently reversed on appeal due to erroneous self-defense jury instructions and she is awaiting a new trial. Cassel pointed out that Alexander’s case demonstrates unfair application of the Stand Your Ground law to victims of domestic violence belonging to ethnic or racial minorities.

James Slater and Dan Kinney, third-year law students in the Human Rights Clinic, also attended the hearing. Slater noted that, “it was very powerful to hear from so many different individuals on the effect of our Stand Your Ground law in Florida.” Kinney observed, “as demonstrated by the diverse coalition of social and political activists in attendance tonight, Miami is increasingly becoming an integral battleground in the ongoing national debate over Stand Your Ground laws.”

The Human Rights Clinic is part of Miami Law’s Clinical Program, which allows students to practice law under the supervision of licensed attorneys. The Human Rights Clinic exposes students to the practice of law in the international and cross-cultural context of human rights litigation and advocacy. Students interested in participating in the Clinic should apply in the spring for the following year.