Last night I was on Countdown discussing Florida’s “stand your ground law” and the recent shooting case of the Trayvon Martin case. We discussed yesterday’s ruling in the the case of Greyston Garcia and the dangerous ambiguity created by these laws. The second-degree murder charges against Garcia were thrown out by a Florida judge under the Stand Your Ground law despite the fact that he did not just stand his ground, but ran after a man who tried to steal his car radio and proceeded to stab the unarmed man to death.
As discussed previously, I have been a long critic of these laws and the earlier Castle Doctrine or “Make My Day” laws. These laws address a problem that does not exist. There are ample protections under the common law for individuals to use the privilege of self-defense, including reasonable mistaken self-defense. As I noted last night, I find it a bit maddening to hear Florida legislators now claim to have never anticipated abuses under these laws. Critics like myself have been vocal about the potential for abuse under these laws for years. Legislators have ignored those warnings because of the popularity of these laws.
The problem with both “Make My Day laws” (applying to the home) and “Stand Your Ground laws” (applying in “other places”) is that they facilitate or enable those who are inclined to use lethal force. The Horn case out of Texas is such an example where, as with Zimmerman, Joe Horn ignored instructions not to confront the suspects. Even cases that bordering on executions have been found protected under such laws.
In the latest case, Garcia, 25, saw Pedro Roteta, 26, trying to steal the radio from his truck outside Garcia’s Miami apartment. He grabbed a large knife and chased the unarmed Roteta down the street and proceeded to stab him to death. This week, the state judge threw out the charges under the state’s “stand your ground” law.
Legislators are now feigning complete shock at the potential for abuse under these laws after refusing to consider the warnings of critics in passing these laws. It is important to keep in mind however that it is not simply the “Stand Your Ground” law. That law is the latest variation of laws that began with the “Castle Doctrine” or “Make My Day” laws and then mutated into the “Make My Day Better” laws and “Stand Your Ground” laws. Each has a catchy title and popular theme — supporting people who fight off felons. Their titles capture the impulse buy nature of these laws where legislators vote without concern for the implications of injecting ambiguous standards into cases involving the use of lethal force. Consider the language of the Florida law:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and 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 or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
The law reads like a stump speech where soundbites become elements of a criminal defense. Judges as in the Garcia case are left applying a standard of “meet[ing] force with force” and “stand[ing] his or her ground.” The result is soundbite justice — lacking depth or substance.