Sunday, March 25, 2012

Veteran Police Chief On "Florida's Disastrous Self-Defense Law"

John F. Timoney, former Miami police chief, Philadelphia police commissioner and New York deputy police commissioner, and current senior police advisor in Bahrain, is certainly familiar with self-defense and firearms. In 2005, he and other Florida police chiefs opposed the state's "Stand Your Ground" law. Now Timoney states that the "public controversy surrounding the killing" of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman was "predictable." He contends that the law, which discards legal consequences of shootings by homeowners and safe retreats from situations perceived as dangerous, is unnecessary and used to justify homicides. Excerpts from "Florida's Disastrous Self-Defense Law":

...At the time the Florida law was working its way through the Legislature, proponents argued that a homeowner should have the absolute right to defend himself and his home against an intruder and should not have to worry about the legal consequences if he killed someone. Proponents also maintained that there should be no judicial review of such a shooting.

But I pointed out at the time that even a police officer is held to account for every single bullet he or she discharges, so why should a private citizen be given more rights when it came to using deadly physical force? I also asked the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Dennis K. Baxley, to point to any case in Florida where a homeowner had been indicted or arrested as a result of “defending his castle.” He could not come up with a single one.

...The second part of the law — “stand your ground” — is the most problematic. Until 2005, in all 50 states, the law on the use of force for civilians was pretty simple. If you found yourself in a situation where you felt threatened but could safely retreat, you had the duty to do so...

Police officers are trained to de-escalate highly charged encounters with aggressive people, using deadly force as a last resort. Citizens, on the other hand, may act from emotion and perceived threats. But “stand your ground” gives citizens the right to use force in public if they feel threatened. As the law emphatically states, a citizen has “no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground.”

During one debate, one of the law’s proponents suggested that if a citizen felt threatened in a public space, he should not have to retreat and should be able to meet force with force. ...In tightly congested urban areas, public encounters can be threatening; a look, a physical bump, a leer, someone you think may be following you. ...You learn to navigate threatening settings without resorting to force. Retreating is always the best option.

As Florida police chiefs predicted in 2005, the law has been used to justify killings ranging from drug dealers’ turf battles to road rage incidents. Homicides categorized as justifiable have nearly tripled since the law went into effect...


Michael The Molar Maven said...

It's not only the controversy that was predictable, so was a senseless death. Still, until all the facts are out, I blame the law much more than I blame Zimmerman, who might succeed in hiding behind it. What I fail to understand is why is it not against the law to ignore the 911 advice not to pursue?

Jeff Tone said...

I blame Zimmerman just as much. He was told not to pursue and he did.