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Customer Wins “Stand Your Ground” Ruling After Confrontation With FPL Bill-Collectors

| September 27, 2012

It’s electric. (Paul G.)

An appeals court Thursday agreed with the dismissal of criminal charges against a Miami-Dade County man who relied on the state’s “stand your ground” law after a confrontation with two Florida Power & Light workers on his property.

Ernesto C. Vino was sleeping in his mobile home on March 9, 2009, when two FPL workers used a ladder to climb over his fence because of unpaid electricity bills by Vino and a neighbor. The workers were supposed to try to collect money from the customers or turn off power.

Vino, who had been a previous victim of crimes in his home, grabbed a rifle and went outside after being awakened by barking dogs. He confronted the workers with the gun and, though accounts differed, shot into the air as they left the property, according to a circuit judge’s findings.

Prosecutors charged Vino with two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, improper exhibition of a firearm and unlawful discharge of a firearm in public. But Vino said his actions were justified by the stand-your-ground law, which says people have a right to meet “force with force” if they reasonably believe such steps are necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm or to prevent a felony from being committed.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal on Thursday upheld a decision by Circuit Judge John W. Thornton, Jr., who found that the charges of aggravated assault with a firearm and improper exhibition of a firearm should be dismissed because of the stand-your-ground law.

Also, however, the appeals court agreed with Thornton that Vino could be prosecuted on the charge of unlawfully discharging a firearm — because he shot the gun after learning the men worked for FPL and were not a threat.

The ruling noted that FPL has the legal right to enter customers’ property to do such things as cut off electricity and said the utility filed a brief in the case.

It said FPL’s brief “expresses concern over the special burden this (stand-your-ground) law places on its more than 3,000 field employees in the state for whom unlawful customer resistance in the field is a constant hazard. FPL has strict protocols concerning when and how it exercises its statutory privilege to enter onto customer property.”

Florida’s stand-your-ground law has become highly controversial during the past year because of a Seminole County incident in which neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman fatally shot teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman has claimed the stand-your-ground defense in the case.

The Martin shooting led to the creation of a state commission that has been studying the law, though it remains unclear whether the Legislature will ultimately make changes.

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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6 Responses for “Customer Wins “Stand Your Ground” Ruling After Confrontation With FPL Bill-Collectors”

  1. Mario DiGirolamo says:

    This ridiculously absurd law must be overturned. The use of Deadly Force should never be applied unless there is absolutely no other recourse. None of us are safe until Stand-Your-Ground has been repealed.

  2. Lonewolf says:

    Wow…this is another scary thing about Florida. Repeal this insane law

  3. maryann says:

    This is not a ridiculous law and you would not be able to defend yourself and use it if you repeal it. It should however stop being used by every weirdo with a gun. You cannot use “stand your ground” if you follow an individual get into an altercation and because you’re losing – you pull out the “stand your ground” law. When used correctly by law abiding citizens it is a useful law.

  4. Jason says:

    Stand your ground removes the “duty to retreat if possible” from castle doctrine. This also extended to any place that a person has right to be. You want to get pissed off at something why not how the fpl employees used a ladder to enter his property rather than attempting a safer means such as a civil suit.

  5. Jim Neuenfeldt says:

    When the man would not answer the door….
    They had no further right to use a ladder and climb the fence. The power can be cut from the street.
    Of course with the new meter’s… That won’t even be necessary they can turn it off by data signal via the transmission cent.. Yep data carried right on the same line they deliver power on…. So when does FPL become Florida, Power, Light, Cable, Internet and everything in your life INC.?

    Also the stand your ground law in my opinion has a perfect legal basis and is necessary.
    The problem is going to be with decisions like this.
    The law clearly states you can not use it as a defense if you are committing a crime.
    In this case with the particulars given, He (the home owner) was on good ground up until he realized the workers were from FPL and had a right to be there… Anything done with the gun after that point was illegal and therefore stand your ground would not apply.

    The Judge that threw it out, knows better but did it anyhow… I wonder why?
    Do you suppose he is against “Stand Your Ground”? do you think it’s possible he was muddying up the water with his ruling so the law would be thrown out or rewritten?

  6. "My Daily Rant" says:

    Stand Your Ground isnt a good Law it is a Great Law,It gives us Citizens a real defence against Criminals.
    FPL Should tell their thugs to knock at front door or call Sheriffs Dept. to enter.

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