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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Should We Stand Our Public Ground and Blow 'Em Away?


On Sunday, December 16 2012, at a Little Caesars pizza restaurant 
in St. Petersburg, a man tried to use "stand your ground" legislation 
as justification for shooting another customer who was
yelling at workers because he wasn't getting his order fast enough.

The confrontation began when Randall White, 49, got mad about his service. For his outbreak, another man in line, Michael Jock, 52, of St. Petersburg admonished White.

That "prompted them to exchange words and it became a shoving match," said police spokesman Mike Puetz.

White raised a fist. Jock, a concealed-weapons permit holder, pulled out a .38 Taurus Ultralight Special Revolver. He fired one round, hitting White in the lower torso. The men grappled and the gun fired again, hitting White in roughly the same spot, police said.

One bullet lodged in a wall in the restaurant, which was occupied by at least two other people.

After the shooting, both men went outside and waited for police. Jock told officers the shooting was justified under "stand your ground," Puetz said.

"He felt he was in his rights," Puetz said. "He brought it up specifically and cited it to the officer."
He told officers he feared for his life. He mentioned that he thought White had an object in his hand, then backed off that when officers pressed him. Florida's "stand your ground law" says people are not required to retreat before using deadly force.

"We determined it did not reach a level where deadly force was required," Puetz said.

Police arrested Jock on charges of aggravated battery with a weapon and shooting within a building. He was released from jail on $20,000 bail.

Jock told the Tampa Bay Times he was meeting with a lawyer today, but declined further comment.

(Kameel Stanley and Stephen Nohlgren, "Man Shot at St. Pete Pizza Joint
Had Been Complaining About Slow Service," Tampa Bay Times, December 18 2012)
How Florida's "Stand Your Ground" Law Comes Into Question in This Instance

A "stand your ground" law states that a person may justifiably use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of an unlawful threat, without an obligation to retreat first. The concept sometimes exists in statutory law and sometimes through common law precedents. One key distinction is whether the concept only applies to defending a home or vehicle, or whether it applies to all lawfully occupied locations.

Sections of the Florida law that apply in the Little Caesars' shooting:
  • In any other place (besides his home) where a person “has a right to be,” that person has “no duty to retreat” if attacked and may “meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

  • In either case, a person using any force permitted by the law is immune from criminal prosecution or civil action and cannot be arrested unless a law enforcement agency determines there is probable cause that the force used was unlawful.  

  • Although in this case police determined the attack did not reach a level where "deadly force was required" to prevent "great bodily harm or death" to either Jock or employees of the restaurant, Jock claims the "object in White's hand" made him fear for his life. Therefore, he felt justified in shooting White and also endangering others inside the restaurant.


    The Absurdity of Public Place "Stand Your Ground"

    White survived but still had a bullet fragment in his back. "I got lucky," White said. "To me, that stand your ground rule … people are twisting it. He's twisting it. I walked in to get a pizza and I got shot … I'm hoping the law prevails. We'll see."

    White said he got mad because his thin-crust vegetable pie was taking longer than the 10 minutes he was promised. White, who admitted he was tired and agitated, started talking about the service. That's when he said Jock "started chewing me out."

    White said, "He was in my face and I pushed him. His life was not being threatened." According to
    White, the gun came out quickly. A shot rang out, and he and Jock wrestled for the gun before the second shot was fired.

    In my opinion, Jock first crossed a line when he decided, with a gun on his possession, to enter into an argument with a disgruntled customer. He could have refrained from saying or doing anything to inject his will.

    If Jock felt something greatly injurious might occur because of White's comments, he should have sought the help of the manager or called the authorities. In fact, he could have left the premises before he reported his grave concerns to the police.

    Maybe Mr. White wasn't a very pleasant man. Maybe his outburst was "past the bounds" of normal dissatisfaction -- full of anger and rage. Does that mean a Good Samaritan armed with a legally concealed weapon meant to be used for protection in the most dire circumstances should be entitled by law to make a dangerous judgment about whether to use the deadly weapon to "stand his ground" in a shoving match or in a fist fight?

    The "stand your ground" law is very broad and open to far too much speculation as to the severity of circumstances that constitutes the use of legal gun protection. And, the law depends upon the trust that victims can make a "reasonable belief" of impending "great bodily harm" during states of extreme anger, duress, or any other significant emotional upheaval.

    I believe, in this case, which is likely similar to many other "stand your ground" shootings in Florida, the reason Mr. Jock pulled out his gun and fired was to initiate severe bodily harm into the equation himself, harm that was grossly disproportionate to the threat posed in the circumstances. He, in fact, intended to "blow White away" in the confines of a peopled restaurant and feel justified by law in doing so.

    Thankfully, the police decided Jock was wrong in using his weapon. But what are the odds that just because of Florida has a "stand your ground" provision for public places, many bloody miscarriages of justice have occurred and will continue to occur. People who possess concealed carry permits have been subject to minimal, mandatory training, but they lack the expertise of enforcement officers who receive intensive training with firearms and rules for employing deadly force.

    My Take

    In Florida, once self-defense is invoked, the burden is on the prosecution to disprove the claim.
    Most states have long allowed the use of reasonable force, sometimes including deadly force, to protect oneself inside one’s home — the so-called Castle Doctrine. I strongly believe in the Castle Doctrine and the right of a citizen to defend his home, his family, and his property.

    But, outside the home, people generally still have a “duty to retreat” from an attacker, if possible, to avoid confrontation. In other words, if you can get away and you shoot anyway, you can be prosecuted. In Florida, there is no duty to retreat. You can “stand your ground” outside your home, too.

    Did you know that Florida is not alone? Not by a long shot. (Excuse the pun.) Twenty-three other states now allow people to stand their ground. Most of these laws were passed after Florida’s. (A few states never had a duty to retreat to begin with.

    The states other than Florida with "stand your ground" legislation: Alabama, Arizona ,Georgia, Idaho, Illinois (The law does not includes a duty to retreat, which courts have interpreted as a right to expansive self-defense.), Indiana Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon (Also does not include a duty to retreat.), South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington (Also does not include a duty to retreat.), West Virginia.

    Reporter Cora Currier of Pro Publica says, "Many of the laws were originally advocated as a way to address domestic abuse cases — how could a battered wife retreat if she was attacked in her own home? Such legislation also has been recently pushed by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups."

    (Cora Currier, "23 States with "Stand Your Ground" Gun Laws Like the One
    that Let Trayvon Martin's Killer Go Free Alter,", March 25 2012)

    The number of justifiable homicides reported in Florida has skyrocketed since the law went into effect. In the five years before the law's approval, Florida averaged 12 justifiable homicides a year, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. In the six years since, the average is 33.
    (Michael Pearson, "Florida Shooting Renews Debate Over
     'Stand Your Ground' Laws, CNN, updated March 20 2012)
    The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, a national group, argues that Stand Your Ground is not just a technical expansion of the castle doctrine, the ancient legal concept that allows property owners to defend their home, but rather a barrier to prosecution of genuine criminals.

    “It’s almost like we now have to prove a negative — that a person was not acting in self-defense, often on the basis of only one witness, the shooter,” said Steven Jansen, the group’s vice president.
    The Tampa Bay Times has identified at least 130 cases in Florida in which shooters cited the Stand Your Ground law to defend their actions; in at least 50 of those cases, prosecutors decided against bringing any charges.
    50 of 130 cases -- that amounts to approximately 39% of Stand Your Ground charges have been dismissed by Florida authorities. 61% have been pursued as unjustifiable?
    And, what about the Stand Your Ground charges that went to court in Florida?
    * 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.
    * People often go free under "stand your ground" in cases that seem to make a mockery of what lawmakers intended. One man killed two unarmed people and walked out of jail. Another shot a man as he lay on the ground. Others went free after shooting their victims in the back. In nearly a third of the cases the Times analyzed, defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim — and still went free.
    * Elsewhere in the state, drug dealers have successfully invoked "stand your ground" even though they were in the middle of a deal when the shooting started.

    In Daytona Beach, for example, police Chief Mike Chitwood used the "stand your ground" law as the rationale for not filing charges in two drug deals that ended in deaths. He said he was prevented from going forward because the accused shooters had permits to carry concealed weapons and they claimed they were defending themselves at the time.
    Even chasing and killing someone over a drug buy can be considered standing your ground. Anthony Gonzalez Jr. was part of a 2010 drug deal that went sour when someone threatened Gonzalez with a gun. Gonzalez chased the man down and killed him during a high-speed gun battle through Miami streets.

    Before the "stand your ground'' law, 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.

    Soon after the filing of a "stand your ground'' motion, prosecutors agreed to a deal in which Gonzalez pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and got three years in prison. 
    * If there's one thing on which critics and supporters agree, it is that the "stand your ground'' law is being applied in a growing number of cases, including misdemeanors. That trend is reflected in the Times' database, with a five-fold increase in nonfatal cases from 2008 to 2011.
    (Kris Hundley and Susan Taylor Martin, "Florida 'Stand Your Ground' Law Yields Some Shocking Outcomes Depending on How Law Is Applied, Tampa Bay Times, June 3 2012)
    In the heat of passion, too many innocent people are being shot because of the doctrine. And, the law is being abused and turned upside down. I think the duty to retreat in public confrontations should be strictly enforced, and I fear that twenty-three other states are also ripping their fellow citizens with far too many unnecessary bullet holes.
    Let me leave you with these quotes from the Hundley and Martin article:
    "As 'stand your ground' claims have increased, so too has the number of Floridians with guns. Concealed weapons permits now stand at 1.1 million, three times as many as in 2005 when the law was passed.

    "'I think the (stand your ground) law has an emboldening effect. All of a sudden, you're a tough guy and can be aggressive,' said George Kirkham, a professor emeritus at Florida State University who has worked as a police officer.

    "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. All too often, Bruce Bartlett, chief assistant state attorney for Pinellas-Pasco counties, sees the result.

    "'I see cases where I'll think, "This person didn't really need to kill that person but the law, as it is written, justifies their action," Bartlett said about incidents that his office decides not to prosecute due to 'stand your ground.' 'It may be legally within the boundaries. But at the end of the day, was it really necessary?'"
    (Kris Hundley and Susan Taylor Martin, "Florida 'Stand Your Ground' Law Yields Some Shocking Outcomes Depending on How Law Is Applied, Tampa Bay Times, June 3 2012)
    "By our readiness to allow arms to be purchased
    at will and fired at whim… we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes."
     -Martin Luther King, Jr.
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