In 2015, Florida’s Supreme Court ruled that defendants in invoking the stand your ground law must prove they were, in fact, acting in self-defense. This is the standard in all stand your ground states.
In practical terms, stand your ground laws already stretch the meaning of “self-defense.” There doesn’t need to be an actual threat – just a “reasonable belief” that a threat could be imminent.
Take the case of Curtis Reeves. Reeves is a retired police officer currently on trial in Florida for shooting and killing 43-year-old Chad Oulson at a Florida movie theater. Oulson’s wife was also injured. All this over Oulson using a cell phone during the previews and later, throwing popcorn at Reeves. Reeves is claiming self-defense under Florida’s stand your ground law.
In testimony, Reeves said,
“I realized I was in a life-or-death struggle. He was no longer a loudmouth. He was now a very definite threat. I would have to take decisive action if I wanted to survive this thing.”
As the Miami Herald’s Fred Grimm notes, Reeve’s “burden” is low.
“Under the statute, it doesn’t matter if Oulson had been an actual, real-life threat. Reeves only needs to convince Barthle that in his mind, Oulson was about to do him grievous bodily harm.”
Yet, Republican state Senator Rob Bradley believes the law has it wrong. Under Bradley’s idea of justice, Reeves shouldn’t have the burden of proving he acted in self-defense. Rather, the prosecutor should have to prove why Oulson and his wife, who was also injured, didn’t deserve to be shot.
That’s what a law that Bradley proposed amounts to.
He offered the convenient rational that this is about preserving the principle that that state has the burden of proof in criminal law “from the beginning of the case to the end.”
Critics argue this law would require the state to convict the defendant twice – and in reality, the burden is shifted to the victim’s family – not the state.
Jordan Davis’ mother, Lucy McBath, made this very point.
Having lived through this grueling experience first-hand with two trials for my son’s murder, I can attest to the anguish and the pain that this process elicits. We should not make it harder for family members to achieve the justice that they deserve.
Under the current law, Floridians are encouraged to shoot first, ask questions later. That’s likely to increase if Bradley’s law is passed.
As it stands, the existing law is applied inconsistently when you consider that a white man making a popcorn defense can result in acquittal but a black woman firing a warning shot can result in jail time. Take the case of Marissa Alexander, who was sentenced to 20 years in jail for firing a warning shot at her husband, Rico Gray.
Alexander and Gray were arguing over some text messages. After Alexander locked herself in a bathroom, Gray broke through the door and grabbed her next. Alexander ran to the garage, but couldn’t open the door and returned with a gun she grabbed from a car. Per MSNBC, Gray threatened “B**ch, I’ll kill you.” While no one was injured or killed, it took a Florida jury just 12 minutes to convict Alexander. After six years of legal wrangling, she was released as a result of a plea agreement.
Alexander supports the law saying: “I feel like you go into that kind of situation until proven innocent.”
One can sympathize with Alexander considering she actually was assaulted and threatened before she fired a warning shot.
But there is something desperately wrong when throwing popcorn is seen as a reasonable threat to a person’s life, but an uttered death threat is not.
That won’t be fixed with a law that shifts the burden from proving one acting in self-defense to proving one didn’t deserve to be shot.