Kentucky prosecutors announced that no charges will be filed against a driver who shot another driver on Friday afternoon. Details are unclear as to what led up to the accident, but multiple witnesses confirmed one driver got out of his car with a rifle and approached the other car. The driver of the other car was already on the phone with 911 when he saw the rifle, and drew his own gun. the operator heard an exchange between the two men, and then the man in the car shot the man with the rifle.
If the photograph above is any indication, it certainly sounds like a clear cut case of self-defense. If you walk up on somebody with a firearm in hand, and in that photo he appears to be pointing it at the other driver, that other party is likely to have a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury. It sounds like the witnesses and the 911 call verify that the guy was justified in using deadly force to defend himself.
Trial started today in the manslaughter case against Michael Drejka, who shot a man in Clearwater in a dispute over a handicapped parking spot. The entire incident was caught on dramatic surveillance video, which will be played for the jury. Inescapable is the fact that Drejka is white and the victim, Markeis McGlockton, a father of four, is a black man. Further complicating the case, the Defendant got in a dispute with another black man over the same handicapped spot a few weeks earlier and shouted a racial slur at him. The judge has ruled, due to the similarity of the incidents, that the prosecution will get to tell the jury about the prior incident, but not the racial slur he allegedly used.
Drejka is arguing that he was justified in his use of force under the stand your ground law. the stand your ground law provides there is no duty to retreat, but it still requires there be a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm before deadly force is justified. Based on the video, Drejka has a challenging defense. Jury selection in the case will continue tomorrow.
After about a week of testimony demonstrating that Lisa Troemner killed her then boyfriend, Trevor Smith, she then testified and her attorneys put on a week or so worth of testimony, including experts, that argued she was justified due to hear fear of Mr. Smith. That’s usually about where a case would normally wrap up, but the State has now spent a about a week on their rebuttal case. The have put on their own expert testimony countering the battered spouse claims, and testimony from friends and family that counter Troemner’s claims that Smith was abusive and controlling. The state countered with evidence that Troemner was jealous, and introduced test messages support their theory. Troemner testified the other day that Smith hulked out with rage, and the investigating officer saw a door that had been broken from its hinges, and it was determined he had a blood alcohol level over .300.
The State rested yesterday afternoon, and closing arguments will being this morning. The State is pushing for second degree murder, and the Defense is claiming that she should be acquitted under justifiable use of force (self defense). The jury could find her guilty as charged, which would mean up to life in prison, they could find her guilty of a lesser, such as manslaughter, which would likely result in a shorter prison sentence, or they could find her not guilty. After nearly a month-long trial, the jury may be out for a while, but a resolution is nearly at hand.
In Fort Myers, the trial of Placido Moreno-Torres started yesterday: he’s on trial for murder for a 2016 incident in Lehigh Acres where he shot his wife and the neighbor who tried to intervene in their domestic dispute. It will be an interesting case, as he is likely to claim self-defense, because the neighbor came onto his property trying to break up the altercation, and only then did he retrieve the firearm. He will claim self-defense (and previously filed a stand your ground motion that was denied), but he has an uphill battle if he brought a gun to a fistfight. He is also charged with attempted murder, because after he shot the neighbor and his own wife, he held the gun to his neighbor’s sister’s head and tried to shoot her, only to have the gun misfire. There’s no self-defense argument there. He faces life in prison with a 25-year minimum under 10-20-Life. NBC-2’s Jaclyn Bevis is in the courtroom with live coverage on Twitter.
In Collier County, jury selection is underway for Lisa Troemner who is charged with killing her live-in boyfriend at their Marco Island apartment in 2014. They had apparently been arguing for a while, when it became physical, and she stabbed him. She tried to resuscitate him unsuccessfully, then went to a nearby convenience store to summon help. Again, self-defense is likely to be argued here. Also, a review of the court file indicates the Defense has sought the assistance of a false-confessions expert to challenge her statement, a blood spatter expert, presumably to challenge the findings at the crime scene. The case has been going on for more than three years, including an appeal of some matter while it was pending. She has been in custody the whole time, and is facing life in prison. There are some 150 witnesses listed, and the trial will take weeks, maybe five or more. Patrick Riley from the Naples Daily News is on this one, and has been tweeting from the courtroom as well.
Vanessa Barcelo, the 2017 Miss Miami Lakes that competed in the Miss Florida pageant, had been charged with battery from an incident that occurred at a party at her home several months ago. She hosted a party to promote her baking business, One Love Cakes, and her cousin over-indulged. She and other party-goers became concerned that the DJ was going to take advantage of the cousin, and grouped together to escort him out. That’s when the real trouble started…
Vanessa Barcelo, via facebook
Barcelo said she took an aluminum baseball bat and brandished it to intimidate the DJ, though she never touched him. She says he proceeded to grab the bat out of her hand and swing it around, before he handed it to a community security guard. A friend of Barcelo’s then struck the DJ, knocking him to the ground, at which point Barcelo jumped on top of him and slapped him. She testified in court that she did not know if he still had the bat, and she was afraid for herself and her guests. The court found her actions to be reasonable, and dismissed the battery charges against her.
As the legislative session neared a close last week, the Florida House and Senate reached a compromise to a bill that substantially changes the Stand Your Ground Law in Florida. The new law would shift the burden from from the Defendant to the prosecutor at the pretrial hearing to prove that the case is strong enough to proceed against the Defendant. If Governor Scott signs the bill, the burden will no longer be on the Defendant at the ‘Stand Your Ground Hearing’.
Though both the House and Senate agreed that they wanted to put the burden on the prosecutor for the pretrial hearings, it wasn’t until the last day of session on Friday that both houses came to a compromise on what that burden should be. The Senate was pushing for a beyond a reasonable doubt standard, while the House position to use a clear and convincing standard ultimately won out. The bill will now go to Governor Scott’s desk to sign before it becomes law. It is expected he will sign it, as the bill garnered widespread Republican support in both houses of the legislature.
What does this change mean? The original ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, among other things, created a right of immunity from prosecution for people who use justifiable force to defend themselves. Unfortunately, the legislature did not clearly establish a procedure for determining when immunity was appropriate, that is, how do you know when force is justified so that a person cannot be prosecuted. Over the next 12 years, the courts formulated a procedure whereby a hearing would be held prior to the case going to trial. The courts put the burden on the Defendant to demonstrate that he was immune from prosecution.
The legislature has now essentially said, hey wait: the burden is on the state to prove a case. We didn’t establish immunity to burden the Defendant, or to remove the burden from the State… we created it to protect those who used force to defend themselves. This new law, if it is signed by the Governor, will put the burden on the prosecutors to demonstrate by clear and convincing the likelihood that the defendant was not justified in using force before they can put the defendant to trial (where they will still have the burden beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt).
While there was strong support for the bill, there was opposition from anti-gun activists, as well as from many prosecutors. The opposition from prosecutors may seem surprising from a generally conservative profession, but this bill directly affects them by making it more difficult to prosecute cases where use of force will be raised as a defense. It has been speculated that prosecution costs will rise, but the other effect of the bill may be to discourage prosecutors from proceeding on cases they are less likely to win. The cost may end up being a wash when all the factors come to bear, but only time will tell. In the meantime, this bill will definitely help people who claim justifiable use of force.
In the last month, a circuit court in Tampa held a Stand Your Ground hearing on the case of Curtis Reeves, a retired police officer. Reeves shot and killed a man named Chad Oulson after a heated argument in a movie theater. There is some dispute about the factual details, but the general case is based on an argument that began verbally, but became physical. The two exchanged words, and at some point, Oulson snatched a bag of popcorn out of Reeves’ hand, and threw it back at him. Defense lawyers allege that he also threw a phone at Reeves. Reeves pulled out a handgun and shot Oulson: CNN has the surveillance video of the incident.
The court held about two weeks of testimony. In her ruling, the judge found some of Reeves’ testimony to be contradicted by the evidence, and questioned his veracity. Under the current iteration of the Stand Your Ground law, the burden is on the Defendant to prove up his motion, but that could be changed down the road. Reeves can still argue that he was justified in defending himself to a jury, if he can convince them that he reasonably thought he was in fear of death or great bodily harm. Generally speaking, that’s hard to show when the other party is unarmed… Reeves brought a gun to a popcorn fight. Given that he’s in his 70s, I fully expect this case to end up going to trial, though it could still be a while.
The legal issue at the case, which is a clear instance of self-defense, was the level of force justified. Mr. Williams used deadly force to defend himself, but there was no indication that Fields, or his friends, were armed. Does the Stand Your Ground law permit someone to used deadly force (discharge of a firearm is always deadly force in Florida), against someone who is unarmed? It can. It’s a case by case basis: deadly force is permissible if a person reasonably believes they are in danger of imminent death or great bodily harm. [emphasis mine] The State decided that in this case, it could not prove otherwise beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.
Local reporter Stacey Deffenbaugh asked me Thursday, after the manslaughter verdict in a another stand your ground case, how many stand your ground trials had occurred since the law passed in 2005. There’s no way of knowing for sure, as not all cases are murders. Further a lot of the cases not only don’t go to trial, but do not get filed on because the prosecutors recognize the difficulty of proof.
The Florida Supreme Court heard a case on Tuesday that takes a novel look at the Stand Your Ground Law. The current status of the law is that a defendant can file a motion for immunity, and will be entitled to a hearing on it. At that hearing, the burden is on the Defendant to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he was justified and therefore immune from prosecution. It’s an evidentiary hearing, with witnesses subject to cross examination, evidence, and argument. It very much resembles a trial without a jury.
The law currently places the burden on the Defendant to demonstrate his immunity. Jared Bretherick’s attorneys argued this week that the burden should not be on the Defendant, rather it should be up to the state to demonstrate that the Defendant is not immune from prosecution. It’s an interesting procedural argument. For comparison, when a Defendant raises a motion to suppress based on an illegal sesarch or seizure, the burden is on the state to prove that there was legal justification for the intrusion. However, the current procedure has been in effect for a few years now, and the court may choose not to disturb it. It may be several weeks before the court issues a ruling. Bretherick faces prison for the Aggravated Assault charge, but still has a right to fight the case at trial if the appeal is unsuccessful. Ironically, it appears the alleged victim has previously served a prison sentence for a road rage incident.
The lower, District Court ruling can be found here: http://www.5dca.org/Opinions/Opin2013/102813/5D12-3840.op.pdf
The second jury came back and found Michael Dunn guilty of first degree murder. Michael Dunn, known as the Loud Music Shooter, for because his complaints about the victims playing music too loudly precipitated his shooting of a car full of teenagers. Dunn and Jordan Davis, the 17-year-old he shot, apparently exchanged heated words at a gas station when Dunn pulled out a firearm and began firing. He killed Davis and was charged with first degree murder, and attempted murder for the other three individuals in the car with Davis.
Michael Dunn mug shot
Dunn argued self-defense at trial, saying he thought Davis had a weapon. No weapon was recovered, and Dunn, instead of calling law enforcement, continued on his trip to another city where he stayed in a hotel room. The jury hung on the first degree murder count in the first trial, but convicted him of three counts of attempted murder, which he was sentenced to 20 years each, consecutively, as required by 10/20/Life. The second jury found him guilty at the retrial, and the first degree murder charge mandates a sentence of life in prison without parole under Florida law.
Dunn will assuredly appeal, but it will be difficult to overturn, as the appellate courts do not usually like to disturb a jury’s findings about the credibility of a justifiable use of force defense. All areas of the trial will be examined to determine if there are errors that warrant a new trial.