MIAMI — Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was meant to make certain that average residents could defend themselves without having worry of arrest or trial.
Now, police officers accused of making use of excessive force are attempting to claim the law’s protection.
They have sought to use the law to keep away from trial in cases in which a 63-year-old man was stomped, a man in a wheelchair was beaten, and two males had been shot dead in separate incidents.
In some instances, judges have granted their request.
“The law says it applies to ‘any person,’” stated Eric Schwartzreich, a lawyer representing a Broward County sheriff’s deputy who created a effective Stand Your Ground claim in the 2013 killing of a personal computer engineer. “Law enforcement is any person. Why would there be a law that applies to one particular person in the criminal justice method and not an additional?”
The law has a contentious history and was opposed by prosecutors as soon as it was passed in 2005. It eliminates a person’s duty to retreat from a unsafe scenario and frees them to use deadly force “if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary” to prevent harm or death. It shields folks from each criminal trials and civil lawsuits.
Stand Your Ground became widely identified in 2012, when the police in Sanford, Fla., cited it as the reason that they declined to arrest the killer of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin. Critics say the law makes it too straightforward to claim self-defense when violence could have been avoided, and that white people’s fears are much more likely to be deemed “reasonable” than black people’s.
Practically two dozen states about the nation have such laws, but specialists think Florida is the only place where police officers have employed it.
Civil rights lawyers say letting police officers invoke the law stretches its intent, and creates an additional avenue for them to get away with unjustified shootings. The state senator who sponsored the law, Dennis K. Baxley, said he was surprised to see officers invoke it, and even a lawyer for one of the officers who claimed Stand Your Ground said the law need to be changed.
The police are currently authorized to use force when they perceive danger, and even in highly disputed instances they typically avoid facing charges.
Stand Your Ground offers them an added opportunity to do so, if they can persuade a judge. “A police officer has complete immunity under the law if he makes use of deadly force appropriately,” stated David I. Schoen, a lawyer for the family of 1 of the police shooting victims. “You can not also give him Stand Your Ground.”
Final week, lawyers notified the court that Nouman K. Raja, a former Palm Beach Gardens police officer, intended to seek Stand Your Ground protection in the 2015 killing of Corey Jones, a 31-year-old musician and housing inspector. Mr. Jones was waiting on the side of the road in a broken-down car when Mr. Raja, in plain clothes and an unmarked vehicle, approached him in the middle of the evening with no identifying himself.
Mr. Jones had a new gun which he purchased due to the fact he frequently carried money on his way property from gigs. The officer claimed Mr. Jones pointed it at him, but prosecutors say Mr. Raja fired at Mr. Jones six times even as he fled, hitting him 3 occasions.
The encounter was recorded by the roadside assistance service Mr. Jones had called for aid.
Mr. Raja, a rookie in the department, was fired. His Stand Your Ground hearing has been scheduled for March, when prosecutors should present a mini-trial before the judge, who will determine no matter whether to dismiss the charges.
The hearing offers defendants a opportunity to beat the charges just before trial. Prosecutors have argued that officers already have immunity for lawful shootings beneath a different law that particularly addresses law enforcement.
In a court motion, the Florida attorney general’s office stated police officers ought to not be permitted to get protection from both laws. Victims’ families have also objected.
“I believe it is extremely sad that police officers are taking advantage of that law, particularly when they are in the incorrect,” mentioned Mr. Jones’s father, Clinton Jones Sr. “I believe it is a disgrace to the police department.”
Benjamin L. Crump, the family’s lawyer, stated the case “risks a terrible precedent.”
“To extend it to police officers on the street offers them a license to kill just by saying they felt worry — no requirements, no objective verify and balance,” Mr. Crump said.
Mr. Raja’s lawyer, Richard Lubin, declined to comment even though the case is pending.
He was not the first to attempt the defense. A judge granted the Stand Your Ground claim of Mr. Schwartzreich’s client, Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Peter Peraza, in the 2013 killing of Jermaine McBean. Mr. McBean, 33, was walking down the street, wearing earbuds and with an air rifle propped on his shoulders, when Mr. Peraza ordered him from behind to drop it.
The officer claimed that Mr. McBean pointed the air rifle at him, even though witnesses disputed his account. Soon after a hearing, a judge ruled in Mr. Peraza’s favor and dismissed the case.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld the ruling, but simply because the selection was in direct conflict with an additional appeals court ruling, the case is headed to the Florida Supreme Court.
In 2012, the Second District Court of Appeal rejected an officer’s use of the law to steer clear of trial for stomping on a 63-year-old man. Juan Caamano, a former police officer in Haines City, south of Orlando, instead went to trial and was acquitted.
Final summer time, two Miami police officers effectively invoked Stand Your Ground immunity when they had been sued for damages in the beating of a man in a wheelchair.
Even Mr. Caamano’s lawyer mentioned police officers ought to not be allowed to invoke Stand Your Ground.
Neighborhood judges frequently have ties to law enforcement or are reluctant to rule against police officers for political reasons, the lawyer, Lawrence H. Collins, mentioned.
“What it does in the case of police officers is it puts a selection of whether or not an action was justified in the hands of a judge rather than a jury,” he stated. “The law requirements to be changed. You don’t want that choice in the hands of a judge.”
Published at Sun, 28 Jan 2018 08:00:14 +0000