By Jim Manfre
My classmates shuffled nervously into our first law school class, Torts, taught by the aged Professor Fagan. He was an image out of The Paper Chase: tall, austere, and a shock of white hair outlining a serious and somewhat threatening gaze. His booming voice announced how he would criticize the unwary victim of his Socratic questioning.
After the mandatory explanation of his expectations for the class, he unwound himself from his high-back leather chair and approached an unsuspecting student in the front row. The student apparently did not have the good sense to hide in the relative safety of the back rows.
Fagan demanded from the student the legal definition of a battery. Before the student had a chance to respond, the professor grabbed the student’s arm and shook it for a second. He then questioned the stunned student as to whether he had committed a battery based on the common law definition. Not waiting for a response, the professor demanded if the student had raised his arm to release the professor’s grip and struck the professor in the eye–would that be a battery, or would it be permitted by the common law definition of self-defense?
The reason I mention this episode from my early days in law school is that it encapsulates a law’s purpose. A law should clearly and concisely explain its intent and be based on common sense notions of human behavior. In this instance Professor Fagan was explaining the law of battery and self-defense in a way that was understandable to any lay person. We inherently understand the bounds of human behavior and realize quickly when the actions of others are outside those boundaries. We do not need statutes to interpret this behavior for us.
Having tried over thirty criminal cases as a prosecutor, I observed that juries or judges most times found their way to the right conclusion by applying the law to the facts.
The stand your ground law as passed by Florida under Gov. Jeb Bush under the influence of the National Rifle Association clarifies for law enforcement the extent to which a person can defend himself when a person enter his home, automobile or boat. Previous to this law, there was confusion as to whether a person could only use force on an intruder based on the type of force used to enter the home, boat or vehicle.
The castle doctrine, as it is called in stand your ground, allows a person to use deadly physical force in these situations regardless of whether the intruder has a weapon or not. I believe this clarification has assisted law enforcement and finders of fact in determining whether a person used force properly in defense of his person or family in these instances.
Where I believe stand your ground confuses the public, law enforcement, judges and juries is in the reference it makes to F.S.S.776.013 (3) (See the law below) that a person has no duty to retreat and force may be used, including deadly physical force, if the person is not engaged in unlawful activity and is attacked and “he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so.”
What this stand-your-ground language requires is that law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and juries enter the mind of the person to determine if he acted properly rather than rely on what a reasonable person would have done in those circumstances. Self-defense is now what the person at the time believed, rather than common sense community standards. The worst part, other than the confusion created in the criminal justice system, is that it has emboldened certain people to act irresponsibly out of a false sense that this law protects them.
Clearly this sentence in stand-your-ground should be changed back to what a reasonable person would do in the situation rather than requiring law enforcement to attempt a Vulcan mind-probe to decipher the actor’s–or perpetrator’s–state of mind. More importantly, the public’s valid concern over the vigilante-style actions of certain people who have watched too many Western movies should be dealt with through legislative action.
It is the duty of the Legislature to enact laws that make sense, and when dealing with public safety, to enact laws that enhance the protection of the public. There are too many instances where this stand-your- ground language has emboldened criminal behavior rather than prevented it, or has failed to restrain violent physical reactions to what would otherwise have been a loud verbal altercation.
Jim Manfre, an attorney, was elected Flagler County Sheriff in November 2012. He also served as sheriff between 2001 and 2005.
Justifiable Use of Force: Florida Statute 776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.—
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:
(2) The presumption set forth in subsection (1) does not apply if:
(5) As used in this section, the term:
The problem with this analysis is that the victim is subject to the opinion of the law enforcement officer or prosecutor when defining “reasonable.” What is “reasonable” to one person may be unreasonable to another. There is also the potential of personal bias entering into the determination. Maybe the arresting or investigating officer doesn’t personally like the accused, or the accused is the friend of a friend. In the Martin case, the jury followed the letter of the law and correctly found him not guilty, in spite of some unusual actions taken by the prosecutor, including the failure to present the case to a grand jury. In the Dunn case, the prosecutor charged him with first degree murder. In Florida, first degree murder requires a premeditated planning of the killing, or the killing must have occurred during the commission of certain felonies. These circumstances were absent in the Dunn case, and he was found not guilty OF FIRST DEGREE murder. For second degree murder, there must only be a killing with a depraved mind, meaning there simply was no regard for human life. This, I believe, was the case in the Dunn incident, but for some reason he wasn’t charge with second degree murder. So, instead of lamenting that the public has the right to defend itself, I say your displeasure should be directed where it is deserved: at incompetence on the prosecutor’s part.
Jan Reeger says
Well said !! I have always use the “reasonable person” standard in my dealings. Fortunately, these have been civil activities but it is what I would always apply. It is sad to see a well intended law be abused.
A momentous thought and the action to bring to fruition is enough to constitute 1st degree murder. This Stand your Ground law isn’t necessary! I disagree highly that this is a well intended law! When laws are written for political purposes to gratify one group over another then that law becomes criminal. Evidently the truth will come forth. Aside from these obvious facts, self defense counters an immediate threat of violence and is usually a spontaneous natural act. Just because it’s in written form shouldn’t give me the okay to respond but rather it gives me a defense to be the aggressor. The law is bias… color coded!!! End it!
Charles Gardner says
The race card?
Lets improve Florida for all, by demanding the abolition of Stand Your Ground! We shouldn’t need a fire arm to get our point across but words instead. In my long life of over 70 years of age I never needed a fire arm to defend myself…I just stand my ground for my rights with dialog or the help of our law enforcement, or our judicial system in court if necessary. I only enjoyed fire arms and shooting scenes among cowboys and our proud native Americans cavalry, in westerns with John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Rod Cameron and others. Those wild West times are gone, as the West was won.
I can’t understand, much less justify firearms ownership that cause all this carnage and killing each other and our school children, instead of saving those weapons for the real enemy that is or comes from abroad some under refugee status without proper screening to turn around and kill scores of our citizens, too often.
Good editorial from Sheriff Manfre.
Makes sense to me. I really don’t want to be a victim, and I really don’t want to hurt anyone. But I will ” STAND MY GROUND” if pushed to it. And I believe the majority of society would do the same. You just have to use common sense in judgement…..which many LACK !!!
Well written! I believe the standard should be:
The other person has the ability and opportunity to place another person or persons in imminent jeopardy, and the person or person defending themselves have precluded other reasonable means of defense. This standard works for law enforcement officers in many states and should be good enough for Florida. Why in a public place, should someone stand their ground if simply walking away would have ended the threat? Stand Your ground by it’s very name emboldens people to get themselves in dangerous situations an otherwise reasonable person probably would have avoided.
Just reported on TV a young man killed execution style due to road rage in PA. Why ..? simple because some one had a fire arm on hand to do it! http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/driver-deadly-road-rage-shooting-chased-motorist-15-miles-police-article-1.1576960
No need for foreign terrorist high jacking planes and flying back to attack us with them like in 9/11 or maybe even right now probably cause of disappearance of flight 370 Malaysia Airlines.
I said no need unfortunately, because we are just killing each other with license (SYG) to do so at home. Pathetic to see a second amendment totally misused by manipulation of interpretation.
1) Stand Your Ground laws do NOT change the criteria of what a legal, defense with lethal force is. Doesn’t matter how many times you spin and lie that it does, IT DOES NOT, EVER!
2) MURDER IS STILL ILLEGAL. Doesn’t matter how many times you spin and lie that SYG makes murder legal, IT DOES NOT, EVER!
3) Justifiable homicide has NEVER BEEN ILLEGAL. Doesn’t matter how many times you spin and lie that Justifiable Homicide is illegal, IT IS NOT ILLEGAL, EVER!
4) What SYG does do is force the DA to adhere to a consistent set of standards on what is a prosecutable offense, instead of the standard practice of throwing a bunch of charges against the wall and see which one sticks that prosecutors do oh so often. Darn its just horrible forcing the DA to do their job of identifying which cases have prosecutable merit, a task they were and are responsible to do BEFORE any SYG law was implemented.
5) Prosecuting attorneys don’t want to lose a case, its bad for re-elections, so why should the criteria for a justifiable homicide be decided on personal whim and predjudices?
6) Still waiting for anyone of you antis to show where the founding fathers identified that one has the duty to retreat in the US Consitituion and BOR, especially outside ones own home!
7) Still waiting on anyone of you antis to show how the attacker has more rights than their intended victim!
8) Still waiting on anyone of you antis to repeal the dozens of court rulings that the police are by law, not legally liable to protect the individual civilian.
I know the rhetoric: “From my cold dead hands.” and am not trying to change anybody’s opinion on Stand Your Ground, but please explain what the hell is meant by: “Still waiting on anyone of you antis to repeal the dozens of court rulings that the police are by law, not legally liable to protect the individual civilian.”? Without getting into any lawyer gobbledy-gook, what cases are you talking about?
here ya go says
DeShaney v. Winnebago County
Castle Rock v. Gonzales
The Sheriff made some great points here, and I am glad he listed the statute that defines SYG. I tend to be very much for victim’s rights, and the right to not be a victim by defending oneself, but we all need to sit down and come up with a list of example situations that would be considered self defense in order to prevent someone who truly was protecting themselves is not bankrupted trying to fight trumped up charges in court by politically motivated prosecutors. Being a very centrist Democrat, I can say that I think certain types of weapons, such as grenade launchers that are sold as “large flare launchers” or fully automatic weapons don’t belong on our streets, but with the exception of a few isolated incidents where a psycho evil person massacres so many innocents or shoots their neighbor for telling them to go fuck themselves, most gun violence comes from the same place, which is the same place that dogfighting and mean pit bulls, organized home invasions, and drug dealing comes from, which is hate groups, street gangs, and other thugs. Last of all, it is not only self defense using firearms that SYG applies to, it is also applies to someone being physically attacked and having to fight back with fists or blunt objects as well. Just remember, if SYG is eliminated, a person that shoots an attempted carjacker or a woman who has been repeatedly stalked, been told by police that they cannot do anything until he has harmed her, buys a gun to protect herself, and finally has to kill him when he tries to attack her, will both be railroaded by the system and the media will turn the camera off during the process as both the carjacker and stalker are made to sound like victims, and it has happened.
From the Sheriff who at a Florida Sheriff’s Association meeting last year stood up in opposition to a proclamation supporting the Second Amendment Rights of the Citizens of the State of Florida.
Didn’t he take an Oath to support and defend our Constitution? To protect and defend our rights?