Monday, June 4, 2012

An Open Letter to the Governor's Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection

 I just posted an email to the Governor's Task Force which is reviewing the "Stand Your Ground" law. If you are interested in commenting on the law, you can post an email to CitizenSafety@eog.myflorida.com. You should do so before June 12, 2012, which is the date of the public hearing.  Here's what I had to say to the Governor's task Force:

It is my understanding that on June 12, 2012 the Governor's Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection will meet and take public comment. I will not be able to attend, but I do wish to voice my strong opposition to Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law.

To abolish the duty to retreat places the value of human life below the value of self esteem. If someone can safely retreat from a confrontation without using deadly force, then a life is saved at the cost of the retreater being accused of cowardice. A small price to pay for saving a life.

To enact a presumption of reasonable fear places too high an obstacle to bringing people to account for killing. The absence of a duty to retreat coupled with the presumption of reasonable fear results in numerous killings which are both "justifiable" and morally reprehensible.

To put a cloak of both civil and criminal immunity about the shoulders of anyone who acts in "self defense" means that "Stand Your Ground" hearings are being held in misdemeanor cases. In this day of shrinking budgets and limited human resources, the court system cannot afford this additional layer of litigation to be added to an already overburdened criminal justice system.

The Tampa Bay Times has recently published a study of the Stand Your Ground law which is deeply troubling. I hope you familiarize yourselves with this study, which can be found at: http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/article1233133.ece.

I was a prosecutor and a public defender for 32 years. In that time I handled hundreds of homicides and thousands of felonious assault cases. In my experience, under the law as it existed prior to "Stand Your Ground," people who truly acted in self defense didn't get prosecuted, and people who had a colorable claim of self defense didn't get convicted. There was no need for the law.

I would like to illustrate my point with two cases, one a real life case and the other a hypothetical. The real life case comes from Phoenix, and a full account of it can be found at http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-05-27/stand-your-ground-law-trayvon-martin/55208980/1.  It appears that a young man was walking his dog through a Phoenix Taco Bell parking lot and got into a verbal altercation with the driver of a motor vehicle. The driver shot the young man dead in "self defense." When asked why he didn't just drive off, he said the dog was in the way. Apparently the driver valued the life of the dog over the life of the dog's owner. Apparently the car was also missing a reverse gear. Or was it that the driver knew Arizona is a Stand Your Ground state and believed that he could sit in his car and shoot the man with impunity? If that is what he was thinking, then it looks like he was absolutely correct. It's been over a month since the shooting and he hasn't been arrested. 

Now for the hypothetical case: 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 on his cane. He obviously cannot run fast or far, but he has a club in his free 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.

I recommend the repeal of the entire "Stand Your Ground" law. If you don't want to re-impose the duty to retreat, then repeal the presumption of reasonable fear and the immunity. At the very least repeal the immunity. The way the law is written now, someone could negligently kill innocent bystanders exercising his "right" to self defense and be immune to civil suit by the slain bystanders' relatives.

Sincerely,
George R. Dekle, Sr.