Stand Your Ground Defense Is Flawed

Florida 'stand your ground' law yields some shocking outcomes depending on how law is applied
Florida's "stand your ground'' law has allowed drug dealers to avoid murder charges and gang members to walk free. It has stymied prosecutors and confused judges. * It has also served its intended purpose, exonerating dozens of people who were ...
Posted by Sir Four at 8:16am Jul 19 '13
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The original intent of Stand Your Ground (SYG) was to empower law-abiding citizens, who, when confronted by an assailant, needed to defend their lives. But, according to the Tampa Bay Times, the law is being used a) inconsistently, and b) well beyond its intended purpose. (Even former Republican sponsor of SYG Durell Peaden agrees.)

One of the problems with the law:

The new law only requires law enforcement and the justice system to ask three questions in self-defense cases: Did the defendant have the right to be there? Was he engaged in a lawful activity? Could he reasonably have been in fear of death or great bodily harm?

Juries, when given these instructions, typically believe they must find a defendant not guilty if these criteria are met, even when it seems absurd. An example is the case of Anthony Gonzalez Jr., who was a party to "a drug deal that went sour when someone threatened Gonzalez with a gun." Gonzalez then chased after the man by car, eventually shooting and killing him.

Before [SYG], Miami-Dade prosecutors would have had a strong murder case because Gonzalez could have retreated instead of chasing the other vehicle. But Gonzalez's lawyer argued he had a right to be in his car, was licensed to carry a gun and thought his life was in danger.

Gonzalez pleaded to a lesser charge.

Some other cases:

Derrick Hansberry thought John Webster was having an affair with his estranged wife, so [, armed with a gun,] he confronted Webster on a basketball court in Dade City in 2005. A fight broke out and Hansberry shot his unarmed rival at least five times, putting him in the hospital for three weeks. A jury acquitted Hansberry.

A Seventh-day Adventist was acting erratically, doing cartwheels through an apartment complex parking lot, pounding on cars and apartment windows and setting off alarms. A tenant who felt threatened by the man's behavior shot and killed him. He was not charged.

During an argument, Omar Bonilla fired his gun into the ground and beat Demarro Battle, then went inside and gave the gun to a friend. If Battle feared for his life, he had time to flee. Instead, he got a gun from his car and returned to shoot Bonilla three times, including once in the back. Battle was not charged in the slaying.

Inconsistent application of the law

What's worse than a law that lets people get away with murder? A law that lets people get away with murder that is also interpreted wildly differently in different cases. The most famous inconsistent outcome is the case of Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, FL, who fired a warning shot to scare her abusive husband.

Alexander claimed self-defense under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows citizens to defend themselves when attacked. But a judge rejected that argument. Alexander was convicted of aggravated assault by a six-person jury and sentenced to 20 years in prison on May 11, 2012.

Then consider this case:

In Winter Springs, Owen Eugene Whitlock came home on Christmas Eve 2009 to find his daughter's boyfriend, Jose Ramirez, angrily stalking up his driveway, flexing his muscles and swinging his fists. Whitlock stood his ground and fired a fatal shot. He was not charged.

The Tampa Bay Times link lists more examples of inconsistent outcomes.

Racial disparities in conviction rates

Here is a PBS report on the issue, and a chart that sets as a baseline white-on-white killings found justifiable. You can see that blacks killing whites are less often found justifiable, and whites killing blacks are dramatically more likely to be found justifiable.

There are explanations other than racial bias, however racial bias does seem quite likely, especially when you consider that blacks face higher conviction rates and longer sentences for comparable crimes across the board.

The Tampa Bay Times article concludes by noting that the number of concealed carry permits in FL has tripled since SYG was signed.

Criminologists say that when people with guns get the message they have a right to stand and fight, rather than retreat, the threshold for using that gun goes down.

While many have argued the law does not allow someone to pick a fight and claim immunity, it has been used to do just that. It is broad enough that one judge complained that in a Wild West-type shootout, where everybody is armed, everyone might go free.

"Each individual on each side of the exchange of gunfire can claim self-defense," Leon County Circuit Judge Terry P. Lewis wrote in 2010, saying it "could conceivably result in all persons who exchanged gunfire on a public street being immune from prosecution."

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