Printed letters, July 26, 2013

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As usual, familiar Daily Sentinel letter-writer Dave Kearsley is wrong again – this time, about the role Florida’s “stand your ground” law played in the killing of Trayvon Martin (“Zimmerman case was about ‘old-fashioned self defense’”).

Contrary to Kearsley’s contention, Florida’s misguided statute indisputably determined the outcome of the case.

While Zimmerman didn’t formally invoke the peculiar protections of Florida’s “stand your ground” statute (but lied about his familiarity with it), the Florida legislature – along with enacting its “stand your ground” law – also adopted revised jury instructions that abrogated the traditional limitations of “old-fashioned self-defense”.

Under the “old-fashioned” common law of self-defense, a defendant claiming to have acted in self-defense had a “duty to retreat” if reasonably possible and could not have provoked the incident that gave rise to the prosecution.  Florida’s new mandatory jury instruction expressly provides that a defendant claiming “self defense” has “no duty to retreat”, and need only have been in “reasonable” subjective fear of his/her life and/or of grievous bodily injury – even if he/she had provoked the incident in the first place.

Contrary to Kearsley’s rendition, jurors in the Zimmerman trial who have spoken to the press have confirmed that this revised jury instruction necessitated a “not guilty” verdict – and thereby allowed Zimmerman to “get away with murder” (or at least, manslaughter).

Thus, Kearsley’s reference to “black on black” crime is a “red-herring”.  In fact, “stand your ground” has already made it more difficult to prosecute participants in gang shoot-outs – and logically affords a ready-made defense even in cases of dueling or lynching.

Even “natural law” proponents should appreciate that the “old-fashioned” common law of self-defense – which evolved over centuries of judicial decisions in individual cases –
reflected accumulated common sense, which has now been adulterated at the insistence of the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Counsel.

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