Friday, March 23, 2012

STAND YOUR GROUND: GET AWAY WITH MURDER

Let's perform a thought experiment. Let's say that I am a world class sprinter (I'm not) walking down the sidewalk. I see a 5'2" 350 pounder with a limp and a smoker's cough hobbling toward me. He obviously cannot run fast or far, but he has a club in his hand and, between wheezing gasps for breath, he is shouting threats to brain me with the club. He's 30 yards away when I first see him. I can obviously save my life and spare his by turning around and running away. What should I do? Florida Statute 776.012 says that I am perfectly within my rights to "stand my ground" and shoot him dead without taking a backward step. And Florida Statute 776.032(2) warns investigating law officers not to arrest me.

There has been a huge outcry against law enforcement for not making an arrest in the recent Trayvon Williams shooting. There have even been suggestions that the failure to arrest was the product of racism. Although the shooting may have been the product of racism, the failure to arrest was a logical consequence of applying the law of Florida as it now exists. When there are no witnesses to a killing and the killer gives an unimpeached statement that crime was in self defense, then you are bound by law to treat that statement as true. The police had an unwitnessed killing and a statement by the killer that the killing was in self defense. They have to accept that statement until they can amass enough evidence to prove it is untrue. With no proof that the statement is untrue, they will violate Florida Statute 776.032(2) by arresting the killer. Before "Stand Your Ground" was enacted, they could have carried him to jail because he didn't try to avoid the killing by retreating. I'm sure that law enforcement is hard at work trying to find evidence to impeach the claim of self defense, but until they do they cannot arrest.

What can be done to fix this? Nothing in the case of Trayvon Martin, but for the protection of future potential victims like him, Florida should restore the duty to retreat outside one's home prior to using deadly force in self defense. We should not value macho conceit over human life. If it's a choice between feeling like a wimp because I ran away and killing someone needlessly, go ahead and call me a wimp. And Florida Statute 776.032 should be repealed in its entirety. Section 776.032's warning against arresting killers isn't the only thing wrong with the statute.

And one other thing. Some people are blaming Martin's death on the fact that he was wearing a hoodie. That's like blaming a rape victim for the way she dressed.