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Stand Your Ground: Florida is Not My Castle. And It’s Not Yours, Either.

| February 11, 2014

The car 17-year-old Jordan Davis was in when Michael Dunn shot and killed him, because Dunn was upset about loud music.

The car 17-year-old Jordan Davis was in when Michael Dunn shot and killed him, because Dunn was upset about loud music.

By Julie Delegal

To the jurors in the Michael Dunn murder trial: don’t read this. I’m the columnist Judge Russell Healey warned you about. This is a media account he doesn’t want you to read.

Julie Delegal

Julie Delegal

In a nutshell, I agree with the father of Jordan Davis, the 17-year-old youth who was shot outside of a Jacksonville gas station ostensibly because the music coming from the vehicle he was in was too loud.

Ron Davis’ position is: Florida is not my castle. And it’s not yours, either.

As Davis told Susan Eastman, reporting for Reuters, “In your home, you have every right to protect your castle[.] In public, we can’t all walk around acting like we are in our home, telling people what to do in a public place. We have to share the public space.”

Share the public space? Peacefully? The idea sounds an awful lot like a concept we used to know: civilization.

The grieving father’s words succinctly describe what’s wrong with Florida’s stand your ground law. It has two basic effects. First, it permits a homicide defendant to request a pretrial hearing that, if he wins, would immunizehim from both criminal and civil liability. Second, it extends the “castle” — one’s home — far beyond one’s front steps.

Stand your ground essentially amends the laws of self-defense in Florida to remove a centuries-old common law mandate: the duty to retreat, if at all possible, before engaging in a defensive act that could serious harm or kill another human being. The “Castle Doctrine” in the pre-2005 self-defense laws had always granted the right to “stand one’s ground” in one’s home. Citizens had no duty to retreat if they defended themselves within their homes, or “castles.”

Now, with no duty to retreat — wherever we happen to lawfully be — the entire state of Florida, apparently, iseveryone’s castle. Michael David Dunn’s castle. George Zimmerman’s castle. Curtis Reeves’ castle.

context floridaIronically, it was the teenagers at the Jacksonville Gate Station who retreated, after the apparently angry, 47-year-old Dunn opened fire on their vehicle, killing Jordan Davis. They got the hell out of there, as any reasonable people would. The police reports say they drove some 400 feet down the strip mall.

Before the gunfire, the news accounts say, words were exchanged. Were they the friendly, goofy rantings of an older white guy gently admonishing a carful of black teenagers? “When I was your age, we listened to Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. But we always respected our elders when they asked us to turn the music down.”

Or were the words the ugly expressions of a hostile man perceiving an insult? Did they involve name-calling?

The Times Union reports that Dunn used the word “thug” to describe Jordan Davis—a word that some say is rife with racism—in letters he wrote from the Duval County Jail.  The newspaper reported that Dunn used the same word to describe black people who were in jail with him. The T-U’s recitation continues:

“He [Dunn] said he will get acquitted unless the jury is loaded with blacks and hopes his trial will get moved to one of the surrounding counties that are ‘predominantly white and Republican and supporters of gun rights.’”

We know from media accounts that Dunn didn’t like Davis’ music and expressed to the teenagers that they should turn down their car stereo’s volume. Cursing was involved. We know the teens refused, and turned the music louder.

What we don’t know is whether Dunn really saw a gun, as he says he did, within the teenagers’ possession inside their car. His attorney will make hay of the teenagers’ actions, arguing that they drove down the strip mall in order to dump the weapon they allegedly brandished.  But who wouldn’t drive away from a barrage of bullets?

The key question is Dunn’s state of mind:  Was he in fear for his life? Or was he just angry? If he started out angry, picked a fight, and then got scared for his life, a la George Zimmerman, will stand your ground protect him, too?

“If the law supposes that,” Charles Dickens wrote in “Oliver Twist,” “then the law is a ass—a idiot.”

It’s an ass and an idiot that all of our children will have to answer to, though, wherever they go in Florida. As stand your ground stands now, the self-appointed enforcers of manners, mores, and music volume can shoot first and claim fear later.  The law tells them, after all, that the state is their Castle.

Julie Delegal, a lifelong Floridian, is a contributing writer for Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly and a ContextFlorida columnist.

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34 Responses for “Stand Your Ground: Florida is Not My Castle. And It’s Not Yours, Either.”

  1. Steve says:

    “Stand your Ground” did not apply to the George ZImmerman trial. Although it was a hot topic in the media, neither the defense or the prosecution made any reference to it during the trial.

  2. rst says:

    Sure he saw a gun; the unicorn was holding it!

  3. johnny taxpayer says:

    Why do columnists and media types continue to fuel this inaccurate notion that George Zimmerman walked free due to “Stand your ground”? Zimmerman was not a stand your ground case no matter how much the media wants to make it one. If Zimmerman’s account is accurate, which evidently the jury found it was at least more accurate than the prosecution/media account, then he would have walked in every single jurisdiction in the US, and most commonwealth systems as well without any regard for stand your ground. (as to the killing, obviously being armed he would be charged with various other crimes in commonwealth systems and some US states, but not for killing).
    We always have a right to self defense, if someone is on top of you bashing your head into the concrete sidewalk and you have a reasonable fear for your life, you have the right to use deadly force to defend yourself. That was true pre-2005, that’s true post 2005, and that’s true in every single jurisdiction in the USA without a single regard to stand your ground.

    • Correction says:

      Johnny you’re simply wrong, which is understandable considering the media over-simplified the concept of “stand your ground”.

      1. “Stand your ground” is defined differently on a state by state basis, and the important part is the removal of “duty to retreat”. This “duty to retreat” was removed during the Florida “stand your ground” law change, and is exactly why Zimmerman was found not guilty.

      If you listen to what the jury states after wards, the problem was exactly how this author described it. You can instigate a fight, then start losing that fight you started, then “stand your ground”… and you could win a murder charge. Because of this the Zimmerman case was almost guaranteed to be a not-guilty, due to the injury he sustained… regardless if he started the fight to begin with.

      In the majority of states however, you still have a “duty to retreat”, and Zimmerman would have definitely been found guilty. They would have been able to consider his part of instigation, but since he had no legal “duty to retreat”… that didn’t matter.

      Moral of story? Zimmerman was lawfully not-guilty, and the jury did find the correct decision based on law. BUT… Zimmerman is a violent asshat who instigated that fight, and the law should never had been written to allow this type of nonsense. He was clearly acting in a vigilante manner, has a serious authority problem, and is one of the few people that actually belong in prison…. This has also been proven by his continued inability to avoid threatening people, and by his consistent confrontations with law enforcement.

      • Anonymous says:

        Corrections….it sounds like your suggesting that Zimmerman instigated this event. Please remember he was supposed to be there and was doing what he was authorized to do. This young man appeared suspicious….call it racial profiling…call it whatever you want, Im sure most individuals would consider a young man…black or white out walking in a neighborhood…that had experienced burglaries to be suspicious. If Zimmerman followed or approaced him…he was within his right to do so. Come to my neighborhood….if you dont belong here and you are walking around, Im gonna approach you or follow you to see what the hell your doing…it may be innocent…it may be criminal…I dont know and I have a right to find out…its my neighborhood. I would be polite and respectful….not sure what was said..but according to the youn g mans girlfriend the young man was using words like creepy cracker… does that talk to the state of mind and the demeanor of that young man that night. Just saying……no one really knows what happened…god….Zimmerman and the young man….I think everyone made mistakes….I hope everyone else has learned some valuale lessons….

        • A.S.F. says:

          @Anonymous says–George Zimmerman was asked to stand down by the 911 operator and he chose not to. Trayvon Martin’s father lived in the neighborhood. It’s kind of stretch to say that his own son did not belong there. Would you have assumed the same thing about the Caucasian son of a White man? I also hope we have learned some valuable lessons but I fear that prejudice runs deep in some of us and is hard to dislodge.

  4. Genie says:

    This has nothing to do with Stand Your Ground. This man committed murder; he wasn’t defending himself.

  5. Outsider says:

    I am supporter of gun rights and stand your ground laws. However, there is no evidence these guys pointed a gun at the shooter. The defendant can invoke any law he wants to, but it doesn’t mean it applies. Think how angry people would get when people invoked “temporary insanity” laws as a defense of an obvious murder. The jury will decide this one, and it appears this was a baseless attack, and the perpetrator should be found guilty of murder, based on what is known about the case.

  6. Right Is Right says:

    Hey Julie, great job giving an unbiased account of what happened, like any professional writer should. I really don’t understand why we need the courts when we have the media to not only tell us exactly what transpired, but what those were involved were actually thinking, or should have been thinking so we can attack the evil stand your ground law. And it’s great how you even know more about the George Zimmerman case than was actually presented in court, how he “picked a fight” instead of performing his duty as a neighborhood watch. Although I’m not sure why you mention the George Zimmerman case, since stand your ground was never used as a defense. But I must be confused, because as a professional writer I’m sure you always check the facts. Keep up the good work!!

  7. tom jack says:

    Again for the umteenth time, George Zimmerman did NOT use Stand Your Ground as a defense. Travon Martin would be alive today had he not attacked Zimmerman. These are FACTS brought out in the trial. Mr. Dunn on the other hand probably deserves to be found guilty from what I know of his case.

  8. Steve Wolfe says:

    Yes, there is misuse of carry rights. There are misuse of all rights. This right, though, is a potentially lethal one, as opposed to the right to free speech. I am saddened when I read about nuts that take weapons to use improperly, but I still expect my right to carry and protect my life and my family’s safety. I am sure that we haven’t heard the last of Stand Your Ground, and it will probably be amended in the future to restrict it somehow. I wish we could pre-screen people better. There is something kind of anti-social in the behavior of this suspect to even approach a bunch of kids enjoying their music, loud though it may be. It just isn’t an issue for a guy with a gun to address. He should have minded his own business. There were passive ways to handle his complaint. Anyone who possesses lethality should be taught to avoid conflict at all costs. We are even taught karate to avoid fights first, don’t put yourself in a position where you anticipate trouble that may require hurting someone.

    • USMC69 says:

      What people like Dunn don’t understand is, you can’t invoke “stand your ground” when you are the aggressor. Stand your ground only applies when they come to you. If you go to them and provoke an incident, you are the aggressor. Doesn’t matter if he sees a gun or feels threatened. When you are the aggressor, you don’t get to SYG.

      • Steve Wolfe says:

        You make perfect sense, sir.

        My utmost respect to you as a Marine. “May I live my life an a manner worthy of your sacrifice.”

      • Outsider says:

        With all due respect, sir, you are absolutely wrong on this. The original aggressor CAN be covered by SYG, provided he/she makes it clear he/she wishes to disengage from the altercation, and still feels in imminent grave danger.

        776.041 Use of force by aggressor.—The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
        (1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
        (2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
        (a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
        (b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.
        History.—s. 13, ch. 74-383; s. 1190, ch. 97-102.

  9. Yellowstone says:

    This has already become national news, The USA is watching this just like the Zimmerman trial. “Florida’s interpretation of Stand Your Ground”.

    Florida is now the new-age wild west!

    “Angry, old white guy shoots and kills a young, defenseless, black kid”. Hey, that’s nothing new . . . we are in the land of Dixie.

    But to just to show you and the rest of the USA, switch the colors around and reinterpret the same law. Imagine instead the situation went this way:

    “Angry, old black man shoots and kills a young, defenseless white kid”. Now was that too self-defense?

    Only in new-age Florida . . .

    My bet is on the “old, angry, white guy . . .”

    What’s your opinion?

  10. BHirsh says:

    While I discount on the facial evidence that this shooting was self-defense, it is in no way an indictment of SYG.

    Anyone can invoke SYG. Only a judge can grant it, based upon exculpatory evidence.

    This is as it should be. “Duty-to-retreat” laws are synthetic intrusions on the natural right to stand and defend yourself when you are attacked. Rights should never be materially impaired by “progressive” impositions.

    Natural law and natural rights are God’s law on Earth, and no human has the legitimate authority to artificially negate them.

  11. karma says:

    The Florida State fair witnessed it worse violence in it’s history, and it was not a bunch of angry white men. There are cases of black men killing white men and claiming stand your ground in Florida. George Zimmerman was a “light skin” Hispanic according to the New York Times.

  12. Anonymous says:

    To my recollection, “Stand Your Ground” was mentioned as a part of jury instruction by the judge in the George Zimmerman case.

  13. Anonymous says:

    If the Times-Union reports are true, Mr. Davis’ own words show him clearly for what he is–a dangerous bigot. If he had any intelligence at all, he would stop mouthing off, verbally and in writing.

  14. mary hawkins says:

    Poor guy was just trying to buy some gas and get home, then he was threatened and had to defend himself.Shouldnt have been a trial or charges as this was just a waste of taxpayers money!

    • A.S.F. says:

      @Mary Hawkins says–That “poor guy” was in a car and could have driven off. You have no knowledge of his being threatened except for whatever was claimed by the accused. They found no firearms in the other car or on the persons that he shot. I think firing nine or ten bullets into a carload of kids when you could have simply driven off and gotten away a bit of overkill, don’t you? And since the incident, Mr. Davis has been mouthing off about “thugs” and how he hopes he gets a White Republican jury. I think his prejudice has been pretty well established. “Stand Your Ground” seems to have given trigger happy bigots an excuse to give physical vent to all their worst fears and personal characteristics. You may feel it’s a waste of taxpayers money…I think this whole thing is about a senseless waste of human lives.

  15. Diana L says:

    SYG may not have been used by George Zimmerman but it definitely was included in the jury instructions. The one jury that spoke out said they used SYG in the deliberations.
    Also, it was mentioned in a comment about the FACT that Trayvon Martin attacked George Zimmerman. That is not something that you can say is a FACT. It is George Zimmerman’s story. We do not know if it is a fact.

  16. Double Tab says:

    Thugs…Punks…..Creeps….Criminals……Its growing worse by the day. Use the system anyway you can to make yourself look innocent. But we ALL know what you are….PUNK !!!

  17. confidential says:

    SYG aka Shoot Your Guts and get away with it, likewise with T. Martin a real misinterpretation of Justice.
    Want change …? Vote in midterm elections to change legislators in Tallahassee in spite of voters suppression and gerrymandering.

  18. A.S.F. says:

    @Double Tab says–…As opposed to trigger happy elderly people who shoot people in the back as they try to crawl away or kill people in movie theatres for texting during the previews or fire nine/ten rounds into a carload of kids for playing loud music they take exception to. They are fine citizens, indeed!

  19. Steven Nobile says:

    My question is, who decides whether or not I was able to flee. The Florida law protects the victim for a change instead of extending every right to the thugs, thieves and murders. Sure, some people will try to take advantage. If the so-called victim is the aggressor, then they are not the victim and the justice system needs to handle it.
    I would much rather like to know if I need to defend myself against a attack that I will not have to go to jail because someone thinks I should have been able to get away. And yes, this should apply anywhere in the state, not just my home.
    Criminals need to know that their are consequences to thier actions and they will not be protected by the law over the victim.

    And please, stop sighting one case over and over. Maybe you should look at the stats for the number of people who have saved lives with defensive actions. Did any laws change when OJ got off, no, the system simple failed on that one and it wasn’t the first or the last.


  20. josh says:

    He shouldn’t of shot the kid but exactly as the article says civilization if everyone would act civilized there wouldn’t be this question. I’m young and I agree young punks are getting worse with the loud music disrespect and no acknowledging of law or care for courtesy of elders.

  21. I/M/O says:

    Not quite sure what this Julie Delegal is talking about. You cannot simply walk around Florida carrying a gun unless the State has issued you a concealed carry permit.

    Is this Julie Delegal promoting that gun ownership should be confined by law to one’s home?

    However that is new tract the anti gun lobby is taking with the Supreme Court Case that will be heard this spring. They intend to argue the 2nd amendment only guarantees you the right to have a firearm in your home. Not your store, not your car and especially not on your person concealed.

    Bad idea Julie Delegal. Trust me on this. Criminals will never cease carrying illegal firearms. Never! Unless you pass legislation they will be executed if caught carrying an illegal firearm they will not be deterred from such behavior.

  22. I/M/O says:

    I see from the remarks here people have a really hard time staying on topic. This article has absolutely nothing to do with Stand Your Ground Law or the Zimmerman case.

    What Julie Delegal is suggesting is that firearm ownership will be restricted to keeping firearms in your home only.

    That is called repealing the 2nd Amendment. When will Americans come to terms with the fact that not one word of the Bill of Rights can be amended without pulling out the foundation stone of the entire US. Constitution.

    Julie Delegal please be advised that not one of the 13 original states ratified the original U.S.. Constitution. Every state sent it back as “Refused As Written.” It was only when the Bill of rights were added to the original U.S. constitution that the 13 original states accepted it and ratified it. A full two years after it was first sent to them for ratification.

    There was also a very good reason why the 2nd Amendment was the 2nd Amendment and not the 8th-9th or 10th. That had nothing to do with hunting or self defense in your home from local criminals.

  23. I/M/O says:

    “2/14/14 In a 2-1 decision issued on February 13th, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled “San Diego County violates the Constitution’s Second Amendment by requiring residents to show ‘good cause'” before being allowed “to obtain a concealed carry permit.”

    The court ruled that the right to keep and bear arms is, in and of itself, a sufficient cause for bearing arms for self-defense. Moreover, it is a sufficient cause both inside and outside of one’s domicile.

    According to SFGate, Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain’s majority opinion emphasized “the right to bear arms includes the right to carry an operable arm outside the home for the lawful purpose of self-defense.”

    He said the Second Amendment must be read as including “the right to carry weapons outside the home” because “the risk of armed confrontation” is in no way limited to one’s home.”

  24. ted bundy says:

    no problem here with syg..perhaps the thugs will stop the rape/robbery/murder IF they know the price they will have to pay..

    • Genie says:

      I agree with you, to a point, except I still don’t think this was syg. Admittedly I don’t have all the facts, but it looks like murder to me.

      As long as he could have driven away, how could it be otherwise?

  25. A.S.F. says:

    @ted bundy says–…Just as every war is the war to end all wars.

  26. Howard Duley says:

    Good article, made me think about what really happened up there. This is a situation where multiple lie detector tests might get to the bottom of the confrontation. Today it is virtually impossible to get to the truth without forensics and in this case all we have is hearsay and bullet holes.

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