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Bad Law Assists Bad Result in Florida
JohnH
The death of Trayvon Martin has been much in the news. I would characterize this as an african american teenager being executed for being black and walking.

The fact that the shooter has not been arrested or even, from what I can tell, interrogated in any meaningful way can be traced to Florida law.

There is in Florida and several other states laws described as "stand your ground" laws. Basically if you are armed and feel threatened you may off the person who gives you that feeling. No evidence of threat is required and absent certain specific circumstances persons who claim that they felt threatened are immune from both criminal prosecution and civil action.

The law is so broad that according to an editorial in saturday's New York Times (written by a former Miami police chief) it has led to a 30% increase in homicides characterized as justifiable.

We all know of situations where we have been concerned for our own safety. If we had killed the person who caused that concern we would all be multiple, even perhaps serial, murderers. I think it is clear that a greater justification for killing someone than I was concerned for my safety is required.
 
seeker
Try to look at the bright side. We could solve the population problem in the world just by arming everyone and then making it legal to shoot people for being annoying.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
 
Cynic
My understanding of the law is only that citizens are under no obligation to flee if under attack. Laws regarding justified use of force and considerations as to what constitutes an attack are still in place. How this particular case is being handled not withstanding, grossly mischaracterizing the intent and general implementation of the law doesn't help in the least, John. Self-defense laws are hampered so long as fleeing is regarded as the best option, even when it isn't.

This current situation doesn't sound like self-defense to me and it should shake out accordingly.
 
seeker
Cynic - As I understand the law in Florida a person can use deadly force to defend themselves any time they feel threatened. This is a lot different from merely choosing not to flee.

Suppose you were walking up to me in a somber mood and I, not knowing you well, assumed your serious expression was one of anger. Technically I could claim self defense at that point regardless of what your actual intent was. I don't to find out what you actually wanted.

Suppose its late at night and I happen to be walking behind you. I'm kind of a big guy, once again you'd have no idea whether I meant to rob you or just happened to be walking that direction, you could justifiably claim self defense and shoot me.

That is really the problem with such poorly written law. The way it is written you don't have to prove there was a threat, only that you believed there was a threat.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
 
JohnH
cynic, I direct you to chapter 776 of the Florida Statutes some of which I have linked to here.

http://www.leg.st...6.012.html

You will note that no specific proof of threat is required, the law allows the killer to simply contend they felt under threat of great bodily harm.

http://www.leg.st...6.031.html

http://www.leg.st...6.032.html

I characterized the specific action, not necessarily the intent of the law although I very much question that also. I would defy you, without use of twisted logic, to characterize the specific action in any other way. And, please do not use the heat of the moment argument, if the shooter had such poor control over his emotions he should not have been carrying in the first place.

Please also read the New York Times editorial I referred to. In that editorial the writer claimed that turf war killings by drug dealers had been declared justifiable under these statutes.
 
Cynic
JohnH wrote:
You will note that no specific proof of threat is required, the law allows the killer to simply contend they felt under threat of great bodily harm.


This statement is very misleading. Here are the relevant portions of the law, quoted directly from the links you have provided:


Florida wrote:
776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:
(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or


Emphasis mine. The law contains the words "reasonably" and "necessary" -- two words you left out of your characterization of this law. Investigators cannot qualify either of those terms from instance to instance without knowing something about the circumstances, which can involve everything from questioning the potential suspect and witnesses to a full-scale forensic investigation of the scene. This isn't even remotely close to "allows the killer to simply contend they were under threat of great bodily harm."

How to determine that?


Florida wrote:
766.032 (2) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force as described in subsection (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.



Emphasis mine as well. In other words, no arrest until an investigation is complete. You might wonder how this is different than how self defense is handled anywhere else. If the agencies handling the matter feel that the story doesn't wash, they're compelled to investigate. (This is implicit in the duties of law enforcement and needn't be explicitly stated in this law.) If "probable cause" cannot be found, then they don't make an arrest and they don't prosecute. And again, how is this different than anywhere else?

I'll tell you how: elsewhere, and previously in Florida, precedent has been established in which such an incident isn't considered self-defense unless an opportunity to evade the situation, if it presented itself, was taken advantage of. Besides the general indignity of that, such a requirement suggests a course of action that could easily increase the danger to the person in question and those left remaining. It also tends to assume a level of tactical sophistication in civilians that even seasoned soldiers and law-enforcement officers might be unable to successfully manage. It suggests that a person in fear for their lives should turn their backs (dangerous enough) on a predator, then run (more dangerous still), and hopefully escape while increasingly upping the odds that they will slip up and make a mistake. The words "do not have a duty to run" were dredged up out of no where.

The major point I'm making, however, is that usually there will be plenty of "specific" evidence and it will be evaluated. If someone just says "well, he made me nervous so I shot him" they have failed to qualify the "reasonably believes" burden. If the person killed was unarmed and had not touched the person who shot him, he has failed to qualify the "was necessary" burden. This imagined scenario in which someone can just walk up to anyone they don't like and shoot him in cold blood without provocation and be defended by this law is nonsense: it does not apply to that scenario.

Sure, they can lie, tamper with evidence, etc. But that's no different than in any other state and it shouldn't be. The difference is only in whether it is considered acceptable to defend yourself rather than running.


JohnH wrote:I characterized the specific action, not necessarily the intent of the law although I very much question that also.



The very name of the thread is "Bad Law Assists Bad Result in Florida". "Bad law" sounds like a characterization of the law to me, and it was the very first thing you said.


JohnH wrote:The fact that the shooter has not been arrested or even, from what I can tell, interrogated in any meaningful way can be traced to Florida law.



As curious as I am about what "interrogated in a meaningful way" might entail, I quote this because it characterizes the law as being primarily responsible for the lack of arrest. In fact, while not being arrested before probable cause has been established is consistent with this law, that is also consistent with how things were before this law and the law everywhere else. Arrest is not automatic when death is concerned, although questioning certainly is.


JohnH wrote:There is in Florida and several other states laws described as "stand your ground" laws. Basically if you are armed and feel threatened you may off the person who gives you that feeling. No evidence of threat is required and absent certain specific circumstances persons who claim that they felt threatened are immune from both criminal prosecution and civil action.



Covered above, but this again is not only a characterization of the law, it is a mis-characterization. Said "feelings" and deadly response must either be qualified as reasonable and the killing necessary; the compete absence of anything to corroborate such a story speaks against it.


JohnH wrote:The law is so broad that according to an editorial in saturday's New York Times (written by a former Miami police chief) it has led to a 30% increase in homicides characterized as justifiable.



This characterization of the law as broad (as written and not as you've described it in this thread) ignores that what came before wasn't appreciably less broad, excepting that it required retreat if possible except while inside one's own house and even then only if the person assaulting you didn't also live there. (The implications for protection of wife-beaters there should not escape notice.)

One could suggest that a 30% increase in homicides deemed justifiable under this law might easily considered a 30% increase in justified self-defense cases deemed illegal if the law were revoked. Regardless, taking the wording of this law and hopping down the slippery slope to "I can just kill any who annoys me now!" is fallacious, not just by definition of "slippery slope" but by the straw man that got us to it.

I've already stated that I don't think this law applies to the idiot in the news, but I will again for formality's sake. Still, I accept that I make that determination in the complete absence of investigative and interrogative data -- which is the precise absence in which you and most of the news-conscious nation is making theirs. We don't know if there was an actual altercation or who started it if there was, except to say that there wouldn't have been an opportunity for one if said idiot hadn't confronted the deceased in the first place. In fact, we don't know anything. We're just reacting to the appearance of profiling, an appearance we righteously proclaim using the exact methods we accuse said idiot of being guilty of using.
 
Cynic
seeker wrote:

Cynic - As I understand the law in Florida a person can use deadly force to defend themselves any time they feel threatened. This is a lot different from merely choosing not to flee.

Suppose you were walking up to me in a somber mood and I, not knowing you well, assumed your serious expression was one of anger. Technically I could claim self defense at that point regardless of what your actual intent was. I don't to find out what you actually wanted.

Suppose its late at night and I happen to be walking behind you. I'm kind of a big guy, once again you'd have no idea whether I meant to rob you or just happened to be walking that direction, you could justifiably claim self defense and shoot me.

That is really the problem with such poorly written law. The way it is written you don't have to prove there was a threat, only that you believed there was a threat.



As I explained in my last post, I really think this comes down to the words "reasonable" and "necessary" in the wording of the law. Getting spooked by someone walking up behind me doesn't begin to cover either of those two words. Even as loosely as the law is written, it clearly does not rely on mere feelings. In this classic cognitive psychology example, what I think is going on is certainly going to vary according to a great number of factors and might result in a great number of actions, but the law (and the courts, when it comes to that) only takes certain things to be "reasonable." Sympathetic, sure. Reasonable, not so much. "Necessary" even less.

What I really think is significant, however, is existing legal precedent. It's not as if it vanished with the advent of this new law. It's still there and in time will be fused successfully with precedent surrounding the more-specific castle doctrine. Whether or not such a law encourages vigilantism or not, law enforcement isn't known for taking kindly to that sort of thing and the tools to sort it out from what we might consider to be more pure cases of self-defense are already in place.
 
seeker
Cynic wrote:

As I explained in my last post, I really think this comes down to the words "reasonable" and "necessary" in the wording of the law. Getting spooked by someone walking up behind me doesn't begin to cover either of those two words. Even as loosely as the law is written, it clearly does not rely on mere feelings. In this classic cognitive psychology example, what I think is going on is certainly going to vary according to a great number of factors and might result in a great number of actions, but the law (and the courts, when it comes to that) only takes certain things to be "reasonable." Sympathetic, sure. Reasonable, not so much. "Necessary" even less.

What I really think is significant, however, is existing legal precedent. It's not as if it vanished with the advent of this new law. It's still there and in time will be fused successfully with precedent surrounding the more-specific castle doctrine. Whether or not such a law encourages vigilantism or not, law enforcement isn't known for taking kindly to that sort of thing and the tools to sort it out from what we might consider to be more pure cases of self-defense are already in place.


The problem with your analysis is that you assume that 'reasonable' and 'necessary' are clearly defined terms when they are not. Moreover the loose definitions of those words are completely dependent on facts which are almost always dependent on eyewitnesses of often questionable veracity.

This particular case is a perfect illustration of my point. Ultimately the only person who really knows what happened, and is alive to talk about it is, the person claiming self defense. The 'reasonable and necessary' standard can only be based on the evidence available most of which consists of his version of what happened. His statement that he 'felt threatened' and acted in 'self defense' is indisputable barring some evidence that disputes it; remember, as a defendant the presumption is that he is not guilty.

Situations like this are the reason laws like this usually result in disaster. Who is to say what constitutes a 'reasonable' perception of a threat? I could simply claim that I thought the lump in your pocket was a gun or that you whispered some threat to me that no one else overheard. My story only has to be plausible. 'Necessary' is an even looser standard. Unlike the movies, knocking people out isn't an easy matter. Any confrontation could plausibly be described as one that requires deadly force.

Example:

I was walking downtown and, after a couple of blocks, I noticed I was being followed. I turned down a side street and as I did I heard a click behind me, like a gun being cocked. When I glanced back the same guy I noticed following me earlier was striding toward me. He said something that I heard only partially and sounded like, "...I'll shoot you".


Given the above I could reasonably claim to feel threatened and I could argue that my fear of immanent death required that I kill the person behind me first. Remember, I don't have to provide evidence that the threat was real, only that I thought it was real. The prosecution has to disprove my story. I purposely constructed the story to meet the 'reasonable' standard and the 'necessary' use of force is justified by the notion that I thought my potential attacker was armed and had murderous intent.

The point here is that 'reasonable' and 'necessary' are vague standards. When the law is based on a 'reasonable belief' then you may as well substitute the word plausible for reasonable because that is how the law will be enforced.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
 
Cynic
seeker wrote:
The point here is that 'reasonable' and 'necessary' are vague standards. When the law is based on a 'reasonable belief' then you may as well substitute the word plausible for reasonable because that is how the law will be enforced.



I'm sort of feeling the issue out, more than anything. Of course the capacity for abuse that you and John speak of is there. But so too, in the absence of such a law, is the potential for someone to be sent to prison (or execution) for genuinely defending themselves in a manner fully consistent with the best intentions of the stand your ground law. I'm not assuming that "reasonable" or "necessary" are clearly defined terms; that's why I've invoked legal precedent as much as I have.

There are different ways to make laws. You can tell people what they're explicitly allowed to and anything not in that set is illegal. You can tell people what they're explicitly not allowed to do and anything else they do is legal. Neither one of those approaches is wholly appropriate all the time. The Constitution and its associated documents are so well regarded precisely because they balance both approaches where appropriate. And the best law systems are the same way. Some things are explicitly allowed, some things are explicitly disallowed, and exceptions to both arise over time as appropriate.

And what we're talking about here is fine-tuning an exception to a specific prohibition on killing at the intersection of the the specific prohibition on murder and the specific affirmation of right to life. At contention is whether or not traditional self-defense rules go far enough, and I think it can be argued that under many circumstances, they don't. A lot of people don't like castle doctrine either, but I think most can appreciate the reasoning behind it and it certainly tends to clear up some doubts about the intent of the dead guy in your living room who wasn't invited. But even so, those sorts of cases are scrutinized all the time. They will be scrutinized in public even more.

This isn't a simple thing, but really -- how often is an abuse going to happen in reality? Most people are fairly stable and relatively moral. Those who aren't stable will often slip up. Those who aren't moral can't repeat this, unless we're to suspect that the police are going to accept a plausible-yet-unfalsifiable story for why someone had to be killed on multiple occasions without looking deeper.

I've been avoiding discussion of this very specific case in Florida, mostly because I don't think there is nearly enough known to justify making statements as boldly as have been made yet. You're right that it's the kind of thing that ruins vague rules, but by that token, it's also the kind of event that "ruins it for everyone." How do we fix it now? A complete list of officially acceptable excuses that also can't be confirmed?

Gangs were invoked earlier and I think it's an excellent point but probably not for the reasons they were mentioned. Like it or not, gangs exist as do they sorts of areas and neighborhoods in which they thrive. Talk of vigilantism often follows this kind of talk, but what I'm after is this: what about the kids and adults who call that environment home that are culturally tied up in what makes that environment what it is? I don't mean those stereotypical long-time residents too proud or unable to move whose regions have gone to shit on them. I mean the human beings actively swept up in things.

Do they have less right to life? Should they feel like they cannot adequately defend themselves or step in to defend other because no one will believe them? A banger who gets cornered by a rival is going to have far greater insight as to the level of danger he's in than I would, but I bet he'd find himself in prison all the same. A stand your ground rule is a protection against racism and classism. I wouldn't be so quick to remove it.

What can be done to make the law batter?
 
seeker
Cynic - You raise a fair point, no law is perfect.

For me the question is one of making the law as clear as possible. The one thing that current law sans the 'Stand Your Ground' provision has going for it is that it expressly makes the use of force a last resort.

Yes, I'll agree that someone genuinely defending themselves could possibly be prosecuted and I'll even suggest to you that it happens far to often. I'd rather that than a shoot first ask questions later policy that results in people routinely using deadly force.

Moreover I would be concerned that a person who had an agenda could manipulate the law to provide him with a basis for killing off groups of people. For example it wouldn't be farfetched for a skinhead to go to a black neighborhood, claim he 'felt threatened' and commit an atrocity. With the right preparation He could get away with killing several people under 'Stand Your Ground' just by provoking an attack.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
 
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