The state’s flawed “stand your ground” law continues to be a source of refuge for people who may not be deserving of its protections.
Recently, the Florida Supreme Court allowed an appellate court decision involving a “stand your ground” defense to stand. The result: A man who shot and killed two unarmed people never had to face a jury of his peers.
And this week, an appellate court in Palm Beach County decided a convicted felon illegally in possession of a firearm could use “stand your ground” as a defense after shooting another man during an altercation.
Did legislators really intend the law’s self-defense protections to be interpreted so broadly?
These cases are the latest examples of how the 2005 law continues to vex the police and prosecutors who investigate the circumstances surrounding cases involving violent disputes. Under the law, the investigators must await a preliminary judgment about guilt or innocence before a trial is ever held.
As we’ve said before, “stand your ground” as a concept is laudable. People who fear for their lives through no fault of their own shouldn’t be prosecuted. But that was already the rule of law, and the “stand your ground” law eliminates any duty to retreat, which is enabling people who choose to participate in violent disputes to end them by using lethal force.
Lawmakers should put aside their intransigence on this issue and make the necessary tweaks that will eliminate the confusion and the abuses. But that hardly seems likely. In fact, lawmakers this past session passed a bad law that expands the rights of people to fire warning shots, putting innocent bystanders at risk. It also keeps the records of some “stand your ground” cases from public view.
The fatal shooting outside a Miami-Dade restaurant occurred after a non-violent dispute inside the restaurant. Later, during a fight outside the restaurant, one of the men fired a gun he had retrieved from his car, killing two men. A circuit judge rejected “stand your ground” as a defense, saying a jury should decide. But an appellate court reversed that decision and granted immunity under the “stand your ground.”
Though the Florida Supreme Court would not consider that appellate decision, it is expected to consider whether a convicted felon in possession of a firearm can use “stand your ground” as a defense. Appellate judges have rendered conflicting opinions.
In the Palm Beach County case, the felon said he feared for his life during an altercation with two men. He shot one of them in the stomach and was charged with aggravated battery with a firearm but is seeking immunity from prosecution under “stand your ground.”
An early appellate ruling denied immunity because he was engaged in an unlawful activity at the time of the shooting by possessing the firearm, something felons are prohibited from doing. But the appellate court decision this week found that engaging in unlawful activity doesn’t necessarily disqualify someone from seeking immunity. It’s not the only case involving convicted felons invoking “stand your ground.”
It’s doubtful lawmakers had the rights of convicted felons on their minds when they passed “stand your ground.” But the legislation may very well result in the Supreme Court enshrining the rights of convicted felons to use a firearm they can’t legally possess in self defense.
These are the kinds of convoluted legal questions that will continue to arise until the law is fixed.