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Trayvon Martin and Florida’s right to murder law

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Smart v. Stupid

Trayvon Martin and Florida’s right to murder law

Florida’s law makes it dead easy to get away with murder

  • Martin family photo

Trayvon Martin was 17 when he was killed – almost a man. But anyone who heard his screams for help on the 911 tape, followed by gunshots, knows that a child was killed that night. …

Two people are alone. One pulls out a gun and kills the other. If they are in Florida, it is almost impossible to convict, or even arrest, the killer. If the sole survivor of a two-person confrontation is willing to lie (and what murderer isn’t) Chapter 776 of the Florida statutes says: OK by us, here’s your gun back, now go home and mix yourself a celebration martini!

The statute is called “Justifiable Use of Force.” But effectively, it makes “justifiable” into a simple opinion. And thus, all use of force becomes justifiable.

But that’s not all. Chapter 776 is such bad law that one has to wonder whether it was written accidentally by idiots or on purpose by morons. Here’s what turned Florida into a murderer’s paradise (from FL776.012):

…  A person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. …

You may need to read it again. In Florida, you do not actually have to be threatened to execute someone. You just have to believe you are. So the same paranoid nutbag who is afraid leave the house without a gun tucked under his shirt is allowed to decide whether the person he killed was actually threatening him. What if he just imagined it? In Florida, it doesn’t matter. It was still perfectly OK for him to kill another person. He can do it as many times – to as many people – as he imagines might hurt him. Or take his watch.

From FL776.013:

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so. ...

This is where the Florida law goes completely off the rails. The traditional Castle Doctrine gave protection rights inside your own home (where, presumably, there is no escape.) But since 2005 – in Florida – someone can freely kill someone else any place at any time. All you need to do is believe he or she is going to harm you. Or else you can simply lie about it.

From FL776.032:

Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force. — (1) A person who uses force … is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action …
… the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant. … 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.

Police departments that arrest or even detain and question someone asserting justifiable use of force are subject to civil liability. Around here, cops don’t even chase speeders because it might create liability. They don’t direct traffic because the department might be liable if they are injured. They are not going to arrest anyone who can make a claim of immunity. “Buck it up to the prosecutor,” says the sergeant; every time.

So in the end, if someone is able to get someone alone, he can kill him. As the only remaining witness, he can then claim it was justified, based simply on his own opinion. When he does, he becomes immune from detention, arrest or prosecution, and even from providing any evidence to support his claim. If the police even detain him, he can sue them. And win.

No matter whether justice prevails in the terrible killing of Trayvon Martin, this remains a giant loophole in Florida law. It’s a loophole big enough for a murderer to jump through — as long as he is also willing to tell a fib.

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

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