I Think the Florida Handicap Spot Shooter Should Probably Be Charged
Last week, surveillance camera footage captured an altercation in Florida which resulted in the death of a young man. News outlets rapidly moved to depict it as the fault of “Stand Your Ground” laws after the local sheriff cited them in a decision not to arrest the shooter.
The sheriff was wrong to cite Stand Your Ground laws in his decision not to charge the shooter. As I will explain, Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute simply doesn’t apply here.
Young children are without a father and the shooter may or may not still face charges depending on the district attorneys or attorneys general who have jurisdiction in the area.
Whether or not the man is charged, those who carry firearms must consider whether or not deadly force was justifiable in this circumstance, and how it might have differed from other circumstances where the justification of force might be different. Even if your actions are considered legally justifiable, you must consider whether they are morally justifiable.
Though our national memory is short, the video immediately reminded me of Larry Falce, the San Bernardino sheriff’s deputy who died after being punched a single time in January of 2018. It was likely not the punch that killed him, but his head hitting the concrete upon which he was standing. His age – 72 – may also have been a factor, but brain injuries can kill people of any age, and a hard hit to the head on concrete will cause damage to anyone.
Therefore, given relative disparities in age and strength, a punch or a shove can kill, and deadly force could reasonably be used to prevent such attacks. But what about when deadly force is used after such an attack?
Like the San Bernardino incident, the shooter in the Florida incident was violently removed from a standing position onto a hard surface. Unlike the San Bernardino case, he either did not hit his head or didn’t hit it hard enough to cause immediate problems. Instead, he was able to draw his pistol, take careful aim, and fire a single shot at his attacker, who had since ceased his attack and appeared to turn away immediately before the shot was fired.
That cessation of hostilities, if you will, puts significant doubts in my mind as to whether the shot was justified. Florida’s lightning rod of legal criticism, its Stand Your Ground law, statute 776.012, still requires that the use or threatened use of deadly force be necessary to defend against the imminent use of unlawful force.
Thus, in the moment of shoving, the shot or at least brandishing of a firearm would likely have been more easily justified. It’s undeniable that this was a hard shove by a strong man, capable of causing serious bodily injury or death (see the Falce video above if you have any doubts on that count). But after the shove, no further attack ensues.
It’s possible that no further attack ensued because the shover saw the shooter reach for his waistband and pull out a firearm – as the shooter does so, the shover takes a step back and turns away. Up to this point, it’s a classic “defensive gun use” without a shot being fired, and clearly covered under the state’s Stand Your Ground law – an unlawful attack occurs and deadly force is threatened to prevent imminent and further unlawful use of force. The threat of force is successful and the potential further imminent use of unlawful force by the shover dissipates.
But then the shooter fires. At this point, at the time of that shot, was there an imminent threat of force by the shover? I don’t think so, and that’s why I feel charges of some kind are warranted in this case. Is a second-degree murder charge warranted? Probably not, but I don’t think manslaughter would be impossible to prove in this case. Though slightly outdated, the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin jury instructions are illuminating in this regard.
There’s another complication to this case, and that’s Florida statute 776.041, which includes the words “justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who…(i)nitially provokes the use or threatened use of force against himself or herself.”
We don’t have audio of the confrontation, and so we can’t really say whether or not anything the shooter said could have constituted provocation of the use of force. While other states require physical provocation, Florida doesn’t appear to define whether physical or verbal provocation is enough to trigger this statute. The shooter, one regular at the convenience store claimed, had a history of threatening to shoot people over the improper use of the handicapped spot. Whether or not that bit of information would be allowed at a potential trial would likely be the subject of much fighting between the prosecution and the defense, for I think it has the potential to undermine the Stand Your Ground claim based on the concept of the shooter having provoked the initial attack.
Of course, I think there is no Stand Your Ground claim here for another reason – I believe the imminent threat did not exist by the time the shot was fired.
Were there other ways this shooting could have been avoided other than the simple avoidance of a trigger pull – of course. The shover could have chosen to engage verbally instead of immediately moving to use force, but again, we don’t know if he was provoked.
The shooter had numerous opportunities to turn away. The surveillance camera footage showed the shooter driving by on the road and only pulling in to the lot after seeing the improperly parked car. Was entering into this confrontation a good decision on his part? Do you carry a gun and look for ways to confront people? If so, I would advise rethinking at least one of those two decisions.
Regardless of your feelings on the shooting, there is one takeaway we should all be able to agree on: no matter what kind of person you are during 99.99% of your life, if you find yourself filmed in a violent encounter, you will be judged based on your actions in a timeframe measured in mere seconds. No one will know if you volunteer, are a nice guy, a great father, or anything else. They will simply see you using violence against another person, potentially in an unjustifiable manner, and color their view of your entire existence based on those few moments.
For that reason, keeping a cool head when others are agitated is always a good decision, whether you carry a gun or not
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