Saturday, March 24, 2012

Meanwhile, back in Florida....

This is why George Zimmerman has not yet been arrested:

(1) A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer. As used in this subsection, the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.
(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 added.

In other words, the police cannot even arrest a suspect until they establish probable cause that he had no valid self defense claim, a determination that cannot be made at the scene of the Trayvon Martin shooting (or almost any shooting, for that matter), and still might be questionable (under Florida law, given this statute) at this time.*

I don't doubt for a moment the Sanford police did a poor job investigating this crime. As far as I can tell, they didn't so much as check his cell phone to try to ascertain his identification, or to see if he was talking to someone just before the shooting who could be a witness. But if they didn't arrest Zimmerman, it's because Florida law says they can't.

Whether the Florida legislature wants to reconsider that is still uncertain. But it couldn't be a clearer mandate to shoot someone, and then claim a "King's X" that can't even be challenged in open court without extreme difficulty; mostly because this statute makes it almost impossible to get the shooter into court.


*In Texas, by contrast, it is a defense to prosecution, but not an immunity from prosecution. This is not to justify the Texas statute, but to underline how extreme the Florida statute is.

Update: There was a shooting in Texas after a version of the "Stand your Ground" law was passed, involving a man who saw two men stealing his neighbor's property. The parallels with this case are interesting, not least of which is this:

In his 911 call, Horn cited a newly enacted Texas law, the "castle doctrine," which authorizes the use of deadly force during a home invasion.

But Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who wrote the law, said it did not apply to Horn's case.

"It was not an issue in this case other than him saying incorrectly that he understood it to mean he could protect his neighbor's property," said Wentworth, R-San Antonio.

He said the castle doctrine simply didn't apply because, although the burglars were running across Horn's lawn, Horn's home wasn't under siege — his neighbor's home was.

"It comes from the saying 'A man's home is his castle,' " Wentworth said. "But this wasn't his castle."
Mr. Horn said he "feared for is life," but he was inside on the phone to 911 when he said that, and he stepped outside and shot the two men in the back as they fled his neighbor's house.

There is also this substantial difference between Texas law and Florida law (from an article published before Mr. Horn was no-billed by the grand jury):

"Some people on the grand jury will sympathize with him," said Adam Gershowitz, a law professor at South Texas College of Law. "Maybe he shouldn't have done this, but he was acting in a way a lot of people feel."

But that does not mean he won't be charged, Gershowitz added.
I don't know if the grand jury sympathized with Mr. Horn (very likely) or if the DA got the result he wanted (also very likely). There was also the fact the two men were on Horn's yard when the shots were fired, although one was running away when he was killed; and a police detective, in response to the 911 call, had just pulled up in front of Horn's house when the killings took place. Mr. Horn also made it quite clear to the 911 operator that he was going to kill the two suspected criminals, and it was only when he stepped outside with the shotgun, that he found them on his property (the fact that they were on his property may well have gotten him within the purview of the law).

Of course, it didn't hurt that the grand jury was white, and the two men killed were not.

Funny how these laws don't apply in awkward cases, though, isn't it? I guess we'll have to start talking about activist police, or grand juries, or something. At any rate, Joe Horn had to testify before a grand jury. George Zimmerman is in hiding, but only because Trayvon Martin's family has decried this gross injustice, an injustice that is as much a creature of Florida law, as it is of Florida culture.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, this is the case I thought of, in connection to Trayvon Martin.

    I recall hearing the 911 tapes of Joe Horn. Chilling. [So he was cleared. Ah, the South: the more things change, the more they stay the same.]