A new study reveals mass confusion among police, prosecutors, and judges with "stand your ground" laws.
Florida first enacted the Stand Your Ground law in response to Hurricane Katrina and the looting that had taken place in Louisiana. Twenty-four other states, using the Florida statute as a model, have adopted the “Stand Your Ground” law and many others have enacted SYG type statutes. In the ten years after its passage, “stand your ground” has been invoked with breathtaking frequency. And in ways that have allowed killers and violent attackers to go free with little or no investigation into the crime.
The Tampa Bay Times has done an extensive study on the cases, where the “stand your ground” law has been invoked, dating back to the 2005 passage. The results have been eye-opening to say the least and while it is not possible to go over every case, some of the cases stand out and highlight why this law needs to be revisited.
The roughly two hundred cases where the “stand your ground” law has been invoked (as of 2012) show confusion among police, prosecutors, and judges about how and when the law should be applied. If you claim “stand your ground” as the reason you shot someone, what happens to you can depend less on the merits of the case than on who you are, whom you kill and where your case is decided.
Among the findings cited by the Times:
- Those who invoke “stand your ground” to avoid prosecution have been extremely successful. Nearly 70 percent have gone free.
- Defendants claiming “stand your ground” are more likely to prevail if the victim is black. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white person.
- The number of cases is increasing, largely because defense attorneys are using “stand your ground” in ways state legislators never envisioned. The defense has been invoked in dozens of cases with minor or no injuries.
Durell Peaden, the former Republican senator from Crestview, Florida, and one of the sponsors of the bill, said the law was never intended for people who put themselves in harm’s way before they started firing. As the Times so aptly put it “the criminal justice system has been blind to that intent.” And summarizing just a few of the cases to date would appear to support this:
- George Zimmerman while being expressly told not to chase down Martin by a 911 operator continued in his pursuit of Martin who was walking away from Zimmerman and unarmed.
- In a two page opinion Judge Casanueva held that Alphonse Gallo was immune from prosecution under “stand your ground” after a “shootout at the OK Corral” at 2:30 in the morning where Gallo and Patrick Barbour argued over a debt Barbour owed Gallo. As the fight escalated and eventually broke into a gunfight “between four men in the middle of the street” nearby officers hearing the shots rushed in to investigate. When the officers arrived and tried to help Barbour, who had multiple gunshot wounds a crowd surrounded him and refused to let the officers in to help. Barbour died from his injuries and by the time “law enforcement could secure the area; there was no sign of any of the firearms. However, law enforcement discovered twenty-six shell casings of four different types in the vicinity.” Casanueva simply stated that the “legislature passed the law…because it determined that it is proper for law-abiding people to protect themselves, their families, and others from intruders and attackers without fear of prosecution… ”
- Anthony Gonzalez, Jr. was part of a 2010 drug buy that went sour when someone threatened Gonzalez with a gun. Gonzalez chased the man down and killed him during a high-speed “gunbattle through Miami streets.” Prosecutors agreed to a plea deal of three years in prison because of “limitations imposed on us by the ‘stand your ground’ laws [that] made it impossible for any prosecutor to pursue murder charges.”
Prior to SYG laws deadly force to protect “possession” was prohibited. In addition, a “duty to retreat” required a person to retreat if possible. Now, it is not only okay to use deadly force, it is okay for you to go retrieve your gun and then come back to exact revenge on someone. Or hunt down a 17-year-old kid walking home from the grocery store because he is black and seems suspicious to you.
Instead of finding ways to repeal these laws, efforts are underway to expand them and make them more potent. Using deadly force in such a way is never okay simply to protect possessions.