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Stand Your Ground, Cont.

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The campaign to exploit the shooting of Trayvon Martin to attack a robust right of self-defense continues.  Eugene Robinson has this column in the WaPo, beginning:

The "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida and other states should all be repealed. At best, they are redundant. At worst, as in the Trayvon Martin killing, they are nothing but a license to kill.
But of course it's not true, as Robinson comes pretty close to admitting further down the page:

The consensus view, which I've heard expressed by supporters of Stand Your Ground, is that police were wrong to extend the law's self-defense immunity to Zimmerman so quickly without a more thorough investigation -- and that, given what we have learned about Zimmerman's pursuit of Martin, the law does not seem to apply.
The consensus happens to be right for once.  If the facts are as the initial media blitz led us to believe, it's a case of murder, and the Florida law provides no defense.  On the other hand, if the facts are as Zimmerman reported and one witness partially corroborates (see report by Rene Stutzman in the Orlando Sentinel), then it would be self-defense even without the Florida law.  Duty to retreat is irrelevant if you are on the ground with the attacker on top of you, as Zimmerman claims.
Robinson claims the law is unnecessary, but later in the column he discusses a study of applications of the law by the Tampa Bay Times (emphasis added):  "The newspaper found cases in which the protection of Stand Your Ground had been invoked by persons who felt -- perhaps with good reason, perhaps not -- that they faced imminent attack in their homes."

That application of the law is quite necessary.  Along with the "stand your ground" provision eliminating a duty to retreat (§776.012), there is also the "castle law" aspect (§776.013):

(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:
(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person's will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and
(b) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.

You should absolutely have the right to shoot a burglar who breaks into your home.  The law should not place the innocent resident at peril to enhance the safety of the burglar.  He is the one who chose to violate your inner sanctum, and the risk of miscalculation should be entirely on him.  That danger is very easy and simple to avoid.  Don't break into people's homes.

Robinson may well have a valid point that the law has been construed overbroadly by Florida law enforcement.  Claims of self-defense may be accepted too readily with too little checking.  The investigation in this case may very well have been inadequate.  But that is no reason to repeal a good and necessary law.  If it needs refining, and it might, we can consider that.  But repeal should not be on the table.

Update:  Sari Horwitz reports in the WaPo, "The Florida special prosecutor investigating the Trayvon Martin shooting is bringing in independent voice analysis experts to enhance the 911 tapes at the center of the case, according to law enforcement officials."

4 Comments

The problem is that he claims the police extened Stand Your Ground protection "so quickly," but the legal presumption is that the police must first establish probable cause before an arrest can be made. Therefore they must not make an arrest until the investigation was concluded.

In any event, all the evidence the police had, physical and testimonial, supported Zimmerman.

So unless Robinson wants arrests made without probable cause, then the police acted properly.

However it is clear that Robinson is motivated by racial hatred, he just wants a white or Hispanic arrested just because they are white or Hispanic in a case involving a black alleged victim.

This is decencyevolves. I disagree that "all the evidence the police had supported Zimmerman." Certainly, unnamed people within the police department are trying to justify the failure to make an arrest by leaking Zimmerman's statements and representations about the statements of unnamed witnesses who support him.

On the other hand, the recorded 911 call is pretty damning: Zimmerman, who called 911 forty seven separate times over the course of seven years, and complained about the presence of a seven to nine year old African American child in his neighorhood abotu a year ago, calls 911 to report that Martin is present in his neighborhood. He tells 911 operators that "these assholes always get away with it" and mutters "fucking coons" before arming himself and pursuing Martin against the operator's advice. Martin's girlfriend, who is talking to him on the phone, hears him relate that someone is chasing him and hears Zimmerman confront Martin before the phone goes dead. Zimmerman has a bloody nose, a wet back and contusions on his head, but his injuries aren't serious enough to require hospital attention. Martin, who is unarmed and had every right to be present in the neighborhood where he is killed, has been shot dead. And that's not enough probable cause for an arrest, or to make Zimmerman tell his story to a jury. Really?

"Duty to retreat is irrelevant if you are on the ground with the attacker on top of you, as Zimmerman claims."

Yes, but if he "provoked" the confrontation that led to that, he may have lost his privilege to use deadly force. See FSA Sec. 776.041(2).

Decencyevolves: I imagine, in the end, that is exactly the question the jury is going to have to answer, and I think Zimmerman is at real peril for a manslaughter conviction. He may be able to convince a jury that he didn't provoke Martin, and I think he should be given that chance. I would still be surprised if Zimmerman doesn't face a criminal trial and I do think that people would have something to complain about if that happened. Given the probabke cause standard, I remain perplexed at the initial decision not to arrest Zimmerman and I think that complaints about that decision have real merit.

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