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Old March 9, 2013, 01:28 PM   #1
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Editorial against Florida Stand Your Ground, and my contribution to "comments"

I was checking out some editorial pages today, and ran across this in the Bradenton, FL paper:

As the headline might suggest, the editorial board finds SYG shameful, and a sham, and they had scathing comments for the committee that just held a hearing on whether to scrap or revise the law. (Obviously, the committee decided the law was fine.)

So, here was my comment on the editorial:

There are some interesting misunderstandings of what the law does; some of that is due to bad reporting by the media, and some of that is due to poor judgement on the part of police and prosecutors.

The law does NOT prevent police investigations. That is completely false. What the law does, with regard to police and prosecutorial behavior, is prevent arrests being made if the prima facie evidence indicates that a shooting was lawful.

Without that law, police would default to making arrests, and a prosecutor who frowns on self-defense could charge even a person who seemed to obviously have been within his rights. See "Janet Reno" for a glaring example of the type, hence her frequent failures to convict.

Note that while a prosecutor's failure to get a conviction means that the law-abiding shooter does not spend MORE time behind bars (aside from time spent after arrest and arraignment, or more if bail was not allowed or could not be met), that failure (also known as a NOT GUILTY verdict) would not relieve the defendant of the legal bills incurred along the way, and those typically run into the six figures. Note also that defendants, due to being unable to go to work at first, and due to notoriety in the press, typically lose their jobs during this process...

So, one thing Stand Your Ground does is raise the bar for police and prosecutors with regard to arrest and prosecution.

Another thing Stand Your Ground does is make it harder for prosecutors to claim that a person did not try hard enough to retreat, even in situations where retreat was unlikely to be a successful strategy. (Look around; how many Floridians, as a percentage, do you think are really capable of outrunning a street thug?)

Last, between Stand Your Ground and Florida's Castle Doctrine, if one is found to have been within the law in defending himself (or an innocent third party), then one is protected against civil suit by the attacker or the attacker's relatives.

I find it bizarre that people keep making a huge issue of these laws - they don't bar arrests; they don't make "I was in fear for my life" some magic defense. Note the nutcase in Minnesota who is going on trial for murdering the two burglars; the fireman in Texas who has been charged with murder for shooting his neighbor in his neighbor's driveway (while recording himself saying, over and over, "I am standing my ground; I am in fear for my life"); or the pharmacist in Oklahoma City, who was convicted by his own security camera recording. Actually, in both the Minnesota case and the Oklahoma City case, the initial shootings would have been legally justified, according to both prosecutors - but the defendants were not justified in their following actions, and were prosecuted accordingly.

Can people misunderstand the law, and then do stupid or criminal things? Yes, as the above examples indicate. Does that make this law unlike other laws? No, people misunderstand or break all kinds of laws. That does not mean the laws are flawed.

With regard to another hot-button Stand Your Ground case in recent Florida history, I still have not found a volunteer willing to let me sit on his chest and pound his head into the pavement, to see if they still don't think such actions could conceivably justify deadly force. Skulls aren't that hard to fracture, and brains are even easier to concuss...

I have noticed over the years, though, that most people who have irrational fears of guns also tend to have very little concept of the power of raw force to harm the human body.

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Old March 9, 2013, 02:00 PM   #2
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What is funny about the recent case in FL involving "stand your ground" is that whether you believe the version of the man arrested, or the version by supporters of the dead alleged attacker, in either scenario, the "stand your ground" law is irrelevant, and cannot be applied. "Stand your ground" does not justify pursuit of a suspected criminal as was alleged, nor when you are on your back, getting your head banged against the sidewalk does your "duty to retreat" even become an obligation for which you need "stand your ground" to protect you from.
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Old March 9, 2013, 02:38 PM   #3
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Pursuit would imply an intent to catch and detain; given that the defendant in question was giving a running update to a 911 dispatcher, it seems more likely that he was trying to keep the other person in sight until the police could arrive.

But we really don't want to go far down this road, or the mods will lock the thread.
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Old March 9, 2013, 03:30 PM   #4
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Stand Your Ground is a great concept in theory, as long as it's not abused like someone clearly being the aggressor and claiming SYG and it working for them.
Massachusetts Native (Tough to be a gun owner!)

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Old March 9, 2013, 05:50 PM   #5
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And in practice, when has that happened?
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Old March 9, 2013, 06:30 PM   #6
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Good post M. What were your stats on the posting in the paper. Could you share some of the replies?

I routinely post in the Phoenix New Times and have developed a group of rabid followers who go to great length to discredit me.
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Old March 9, 2013, 07:18 PM   #7
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Well said, MLeake.
I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer. If you need some honest-to-goodness legal advice, go buy some.
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Old March 9, 2013, 07:33 PM   #8
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I read the article and left my own comment, that the task force's decision was exactly right.
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