Recently, I covered pending legislative changes to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. The bill (SB128) would require that in a Stand Your Ground case, the burden of proof would be on prosecutors to prove a defendant did not act in self-defense.
Under the current judicial environment, some Florida judges have ruled that the defendant who used deadly force is essentially required to prove his or her innocence. This is a concept completely at odds with a fundamental principle of American law: that one is innocent until proven guilty. SB128 is currently working its way through the Florida legislature.
Passage of SB128 will certainly improve the situation. But even if it does pass, be warned that Stand Your Ground is not some kind of legal “Kevlar vest” that somehow guarantees immunity. A perfect example is a Florida SYG claim that was finally adjudicated last week.
According to various news sources (NPR, ABC, FOX), “A retired Florida police captain who is accused of shooting and killing another man during an argument over texting in a movie theater will face trial after a judge rejected his ‘stand your ground’ defense.”
Curtis Reeves, Jr., 74, is charged with 2nd Degree Murder and Aggravated Battery. Mr. Reeves, a retired police captain, was with his wife at a showing of Lone Survivor in suburban Tampa in 2014 when he “got into a dispute with Chad Oulson, 43, because Oulson was texting during the previews.”
This case illustrates the kinds of elements that judges consider during a preliminary hearing to determine whether or not immunity from prosecution will be granted. Reeves claimed Oulson had hit him in the face with a cellphone, leaving him dazed.
But in the court order issued by Circuit Judge Susan Barthle, she states: “His [Reeves] conduct demonstrated that he was not afraid of the alleged victim: the defendant initiated contact with the alleged victim on at least three occasions,” and further that “video then shows the defendant lunge forward with his right arm extended, and fire at the alleged victim, who at that point was so far back from the defendant that he could not even be seen in the video anymore.” [Emphasis ours]
Additionally, Reeves’ police background actually worked against him. From the court order: “As he was trained extensively in handling firearms and dealing with conflict situations, he was better prepared than the average person to deal with situations such as this one.”
Even Reeves’ physical stature was referenced by the judge: “Furthermore, the defendant did not appear to be frail by any means; on the contrary, he is a large and robust man. He also appeared quite self-assured when he was testifying, and certainly did not appear to be a man who was afraid of anyone.”
Finally, the ruling concludes: “After careful consideration of all of the evidence provided in this case, this court finds that the defendant did not credibly demonstrate that he reasonably believed it was necessary for him to use deadly force in this situation, therefore, defendant’s motion is DENIED.”
Sad to say, even if his case were heard under the new rules as outlined in the pending SB128, Mr. Reeves would likely have suffered the same result. He just had too many things going against him.
All of us who carry should learn from cases like this. Even “defense-friendly” statutes like Stand Your Ground will not protect us if we’ve violated basic principles of self-defense.