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Middle School Boy Invokes Stand Your Ground in School Bus Fight With Girl, and Court Agrees

| July 17, 2013

Sanford takes a bus ride. (lecates)

Sanford takes a bus ride. (lecates)

Showing the breadth of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, an appeals court Wednesday said the controversial legal defense can be used by a juvenile involved in a fight on a school bus.

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The 4th District Court of Appeal overturned a Broward County circuit judge’s ruling that blocked the juvenile from using “stand your ground” to seek dismissal of a battery charge. Wednesday’s opinion only identifies the juvenile by the initials T.P. and doesn’t give his age, but it says the incident happened on a school bus taking students home from a middle school.

“In this case, T.P. had the right to assert a defense under section 776.013(3),” the opinion read, citing Florida law’s stand your ground provision. “He was not engaged in an unlawful activity, and he had the right to be on the bus going home from school. He had no duty to retreat and, despite the trial court’s misgivings, had the right to ‘meet force with force’ if he reasonably believed that such force was necessary to prevent great bodily harm to himself.”

The ruling comes amid a national controversy about the law after Saturday’s acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford. Though Zimmerman ultimately relied on a self-defense argument, rather than the stand-your-ground law–which nevertheless had some weight in the jury’s deliberations, as it did in jury instructions–the case has touched off widespread calls for Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature to repeal the law–something they have shown no willingness to do.

Approved in 2005, the law says a person who is not doing anything illegal and gets attacked “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.”

In the Broward County case, a school-bus driver testified that a girl, identified by the initials A.F., grabbed T.P.’s jacket as he started to get off the bus. The driver said A.F. pulled the boy onto a seat and punched him, with T.P. fighting back.

T.P. was later found guilty of battery. The opinion does not say whether the girl, who disputed the bus driver’s account, faced charges.

The circuit judge in the case incorrectly believed that “stand your ground” only applied to the defense of a home or a vehicle, not on a bus, said the appeals-court opinion, written by Judge Martha Warner and joined by Chief Judge Dorian Damoorgian and Judge Burton Conner.

“In fact, it (the law) is extremely broad in its grant of the right of a person to protect himself or herself in any situation where the person is not engaged in an unlawful activity and is in a place where the person is entitled to be,” the opinion said. “Although the trial court’s misgivings of applying it to a fight on a school bus may be well taken, it is not the place of the trial court, or this court, to refuse to apply the plain meaning of the statute.”

The appeals court sent the case back to circuit court, where a judge will decide whether the case against T.P. should be dismissed. Wednesday’s opinion said the lower-court judge will have to consider evidence and determine whether the girl was the aggressor in the fight and whether T.P. reasonably believed that the force he used was needed to protect himself from great bodily harm.

There are conflicting accounts in the evidence.

According to court papers, the school bus driver testified during a stand your ground hearing that she was driving children home from middle school. The boy and the girl were both on the bus. When the bus stopped, the boy started to get off, and the girl grabbed his jacket. They started fighting. The girl, who was larger than the boy, pulled him down on a seat.

The bus driver testified that the girl first grabbed the boy and then punched him. After the girl grabbed his jacket the boy fought back. the boy’s mother and grandmother got on the bus and tried to stop the fight. The grandmother struck the girl and then the boy got off the bus. At that point, sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene and arrested the boy.

The girl’s testimony was quite different. According to court papers, she testified at the hearing that the boy was in the back of the bus, and she heard some boys talking about how they were going to fight him after school. When the bus stopped at the stop where both she and the boy got off, she was ahead of the boy. As he went up the aisle, he bumped her on the shoulder. After he bumped her she tapped him, pulled his jacket and said, “Hey, you just pushed me.” At that point the boy saw his mother and grandmother coming to the bus, so he punched her in the cheek.

The boy’s mother and grandmother got on the bus and started hitting the girl. On cross-examination, the girl said the boy bumped her and then pushed her out of the way as he was getting off the bus. He had already passed her when she “fought him down on to the seat.” Inconsistent with her earlier testimony on direct, the appeals court noted, she denied that when the boy bumped her, she pulled his jacket. She said that when she turned around, he hit her and they started fighting.

–FlaglerLive and News Service of Florida

Florida’s Justifiable Use of Force and Stand Your Ground Law

776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.—

(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and
(b) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.

(2) The presumption set forth in subsection (1) does not apply if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person; or
(b) The person or persons sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used; or
(c) The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity; or
(d) The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who enters or attempts to enter a dwelling, residence, or vehicle in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter was a law enforcement officer.
(3) 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.
(4) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.

(5) As used in this section, the term:

(a) “Dwelling” means a building or conveyance of any kind, including any attached porch, whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed to be occupied by people lodging therein at night.
(b) “Residence” means a dwelling in which a person resides either temporarily or permanently or is visiting as an invited guest.
(c) “Vehicle” means a conveyance of any kind, whether or not motorized, which is designed to transport people or property.
History.—s. 1, ch. 2005-27.
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17 Responses for “Middle School Boy Invokes Stand Your Ground in School Bus Fight With Girl, and Court Agrees”

  1. blondee says:

    As long as this law remains on the books, I guess everyone and their mother will try to use it – it’s within their rights.

  2. Binkey says:

    So if kids get into a fight at school and one student says he was just standing his ground, can the student be disciplined by the school?

  3. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    That law being on the book appears to be a law of protection. Under closer examination the crafters behind the design of it know that the majority in power will make sure equal use of it IS NOT granted to all. Whether by State Attorneys pushing charges through or a Jury not giving the benefit of the doubt to the people being prosecuted. Look up the stats who it protects. You won’t be surprised. Biased but not surprised. Kind of reminds me of Amanda Knox in an Italian court system. The press here, along with her family said Europe’s laws were crazy and make no sense and she’s being railroaded, Donald Trump wanted to save her, public outcry to help the poor little girl. Oh my God she’s one us she couldn’t have killed a girl, fell on deaf ears. If everyone wants to suddenly be concerned with black youths being killed in Chicago, maybe you should first look into why young white males in their 20’s have been wiping out classrooms of little kids and movie goers and mall patrons, Gabby Gifford’s shooting and the other half dozen world changing acts of violence that have taken place. A person doesn’t need to hear words from an oppressor to comprehend when an attempt is being made to hold them down.

  4. KD says:

    Within the limits of the law, anyone should be able to defend themselves.

  5. Sherry Epley says:

    The Stand Your Ground law needs to be repealed. It is too general, and supports violent acts against others.

  6. Prescient33 says:

    I fail to see anything wrong in the appellate court’s application of a reasonably crafted statute to the facts of the case as found. In this day and age of bullying, unwarranted assaults, road rage, etc., in all manner of locations, including check out lines, ER’s, church parking lots, theme park lines, placing restrictions on the sites of such incidents for the application of the law makes little sense.

    • Anita says:

      In this case, T.P. had the right to assert a defense under section 776.013(3),” the opinion read, citing Florida law’s stand your ground provision. “He was not engaged in an unlawful activity, and he had the right to be on the bus going home from school. He had no duty to retreat and, despite the trial court’s misgivings, had the right to ‘meet force with force’ if he reasonably believed that such force was necessary to prevent great bodily harm to himself.”

      Substitute the initials T.M. and you have a reason as to why George Zimmerman should be in jail.

  7. Pcmommy says:

    Everyone has the right to self defense. This is a self defense law designed to give ordinary citizens clearly defined limitations to defend themselves if someone has or is attempting to harm or kill them. I someone is trying to break into my home or harm me or my children in a public place without a Law Enforcement Officer nearby, I will do what is necessary to protect myself an my children.

    The facts are: there are criminals among us an even in palm coast. We’ve seen recently the use of machetes and force in bank robberies and individual attacks. I hope I am never met with a situation where force is necessary, however, if I am, I am prepared to defend myself and my family. There is nothing wrong with self defense-it’s a basic human right.

  8. Geezer says:

    I had posted a comment in another article, where I agreed that Zimmerman was innocent
    per the Florida statutes.

    I still feel that way.

    As I read Florida’s Justifiable Use of Force and Stand Your Ground Law, I am left wondering
    why the prosecution didn’t invoke Mr. Martin’s right to be where he was the night he was shot.
    The law seems to cement the case that Martin was justified in using violence on Zimmerman.
    The same violence that got him shot……..

    I like SYG but can see that by the way it is written, it is open to interpretation, and subject to abuse,
    and misuse by clever opportunists. Now it’s being used on a school bus by misbehaving children.

    If my crotchety elderly neighbor, runs my toes over with his wheelchair, throws his dentures at me,
    and says that his dog wants to eat me–can I shoot him because I fear for my life?
    It would seem that I can invoke SYG.

    Can I follow strangers who look suspicious and invoke SYG when they “stand their ground”?

    I dare ask the question: Are Floridians intelligent enough collectively to have a good law like this
    at their disposal? I have to ponder that one for a while.

  9. Prescient33 says:

    In his flailing to come up with a rationale with which to “get” George Zimmerman, Eric Holder asserts that we must retreat or give ground, rather than stand and defend ourselves. Legal research will show that absent codification of one’s rights in confrontations the law was all over the lot, ranging all the way back to holding people liable if there were some means of “possible” escape before they were legally justified in using force. At first these cases seem absurd on their face, but then you realize someone, usually a home owner, went to prison because he guessed wrongly while fearing for his life. Nothing was ever said about failed attempts to escape in these cases, because then the victim wasn’t alive to prosecute, as Zimmerman was.
    I find Geezer’s comment on Floridians being intelligent enough to draw a benefit from this law offensively condescending and elitist. If he thinks so poorly of his fellow Floridians perhaps he should repair to an enlightened utopia such as Chicago, where the populace evidently is not concerned with trivial items such as defense of one’s self or property.

  10. DOWNTOWN says:

    Give this law a chance. Before long the thugs, bullies and punks in this world will learn that there’s no easy pushover anymore and we will see a drop in assualts and muggings. If enough of us stand and refuse to become a victim the world will become a better place for all of us.

  11. Anonymous says:

    first off the zimmerman case was not about race or stand your ground. It was self defense. So stand your ground does not apply here so why is this brought up all the time?

  12. Magnolia says:

    My head is spinning reading all this. Bullying was not the serious problem a few years ago that it is now because bullying was not tolerated in schools, in any form. It shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere. But when we stop disciplining our children and don’t allow the schools to do it, then you will have a serious problem. Children need discipline.

    I am surprised that charges were not pressed here against the adults fighting with the girl on the school bus.

    We don’t know how to behave anymore. What used to be common sense for an orderly society has been thrown out the window. There are no boundaries anymore, no limits. That’s why you have people shooting people, not because of Stand Your Ground.

  13. Seminole Pride says:

    We all went through this in school. Someone nag yous and picks on you. But when you open up the can of whoop ass on them, weather they are a male or female, they will get the message and leave you alone.

  14. Jennifer says:

    So let me get this straight. If someone grabs me and starts beating me up I can’t fight back cuz if I do I am going to be charged with Battery. What ever happened to plain old self defense. Forget the Florida “stand your ground law”. If someone starts beating me up I am not just going to stand there and take it.. I’m not saying I’m going to pummel them to the ground but I will do enough to get them off me and let me move to more open space and restrain them. The driver even witnessed the girl started it. So why is the boy being charged not the girl. When I first read it I was thinking boy should know not to hit a girl. but after I read it if a girl starts beating up a boy he doesn’t have to stand there and take it (and I’m a girl)

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