A new decision under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law has thrown more light on the controversy surrounding how it is being used.
A judge appointed by former Florida Republican Governor Charlie Crist used the law to rule that a bag of stolen car radios — swung during a confrontation — amounted to a lethal threat.
Last week, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beth Bloom used the law to dismiss a murder charge against a man who chased down a thief and stabbed him to death.
Greyston Garcia had pursued Pedro Roteta for more than a block before stabbing him on January 25. When Garcia caught up with him, Roteta swung the bag and as Garcia blocked the bag with his arm, he stabbed Roteta with a single, fatal knife thrust to the chest.
Garcia had claimed that Roteta had a screwdriver in his hand. Garcia’s defense attorney also said Roteta had an open pocket knife in his hand during the chase. However, police found a folded-up knife in the dead man’s pocket.
Bloom wrote that a “medical examiner conceded that a 4-6 pound bag of metal being swung at one’s head would lead to serious bodily injury or death.”
She said that although the confrontation was captured on video surveillance, the images were too grainy to clearly tell what happened.
Garcia did not call police or 911, but went home and fell asleep. He later sold two of the car radios and hid the knife.
He initially denied involvement to police until the video surveillance was shown to him.
The peculiarities of ‘Stand Your Ground’ law means that a self-defense claim means a judge alone can stop such a case coming to trial.
Prosecutors were stunned by the judge’s ruling. So was Miami police Sgt. Ervens Ford, who headed up the homicide investigation. He told The Herald’s David Ovalle that Judge Bloom’s decision was a “travesty of justice.”
Miami-Dade Chief Assistant State Attorney Kathleen Hoague said her office would appeal the decision because “we feel the judge abused her discretion.”
“The law does not allow for you to use deadly force to retrieve your property. She, in effect, is saying that it’s appropriate to chase someone down with a knife to get property back,” said Hoague, who stressed that a jury should weigh the merits of the case.
Despite this judge’s decision, Rep. Dennis Baxley, who sponsored ‘Stand Your Ground’ in 2005, claims that “there’s nothing in the statute that provides for any kind of aggressive action, in terms of pursuit and confront.”
Other ‘travesties of justice’
In an Editorial — “Revoke this license to kill” — the Miami Herald argues for the repeal of the law. They say:
The law is poorly understood, unevenly applied throughout the state and, worst of all, has become a license to kill under a variety of suspect circumstances.
Fred Grimm in the Herald catalogs other cases in Florida he calls ‘travesties of justice.’
In 2009, a drug deal gone wrong led to a dangerous car chase through Miami streets. Anthony Gonzalez Jr., aka “White Boy,” shot the driver of the car he was pursuing but the case never went to trial. Gonzalez was deemed acting under the permissive parameters of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ doctrine.
A former Broward County deputy sheriff who pumped four rounds into an aggressive panhandler outside a Miami Lakes ice cream parlor saw no charges.
Nour Badi Jarkas, who had shot his estranged wife’s boyfriend four times inside her house in 2009, was also let off, with the judge saying that, “nothing was presented … to rebut the reasonableness of the fear that [Jarkas] testified that he had.”
Two workers wearing blue shirts and pith helmets were shot at as they went to switch off a mobile home owner’s electricity. The Judge “following the dictates of Stand Your Ground,” decided that the shooter’s claim that he feared for his life was not unreasonable. Two counts of armed assault and one count of improper exhibition of a firearm were dismissed.
The Stand Your Ground law was passed in 2005 based on just one case, that of 77-year-old James Workman who shot and killed an intruder in his hurricane-ravaged home.
He was never charged because of the existing legal concept known as the “Castle Doctrine.” However, the NRA used the case to push for a new law which dramatically expanded the right to use deadly force almost anywhere a person feels ‘reasonably threatened.’
The Legislature offered no evidence of Floridians being wrongly charged or convicted after legally exercising their right to self-defense.
Since its passage, reports of justifiable homicides have tripled, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Defenders of the law have claimed it has led to a dramatic drop in violent crime, but Politifact has found that there is no evidence linking the two.
Some Florida lawmakers are pushing for the law to be at least ‘clarified.’ Governor Rick Scott has said there will be public hearings, however, as Republicans in the state legislature are resisting any debate there. Florida Democratic Party Chair, Rod Smith, who cosponsored the bill as a state senator in 2005, is also still backing the law.
Marc Caputo writing in the Herald weighed the chances of any change:
Chances state lawmakers will strike the deadly force law from the books: Nil.
Chances it will be amended: Slight.
Chances the NRA will get to boast of a win: High.
Picture by Seattle.roamer