Saturday, April 14, 2012

More on "Stand Your Ground" laws

... which we covered in depth today on my radio show this morning. As you know, this is the law being used to defend George Zimmerman, arrested this week in connection with the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.

Our guests, Traci Fant (organizer of the local rally seeking justice for Trayvon), Chris Harris and Amelia Pena, discussed South Carolina's "Stand your ground" law, which is a provision in the "Protection of Persons and Property Act." This was defined by the SC Legislature in SECTION 16-11-440(C) and is considered an extension or clarification of the "Castle doctrine"--a concept discussed at length by my radio-show participants.

In my opinion, the Castle doctrine should be sufficient, so I am not sure why an additional law was necessary. The National Rifle Association (and how did you guess) was one of the main agitators for the PPPA, which makes me wonder if increasing gun-sales was one incentive for the law. Concealed-carry laws are currently classified as "shall-issue"--one of those weird in-between categories nobody can quite figure out. Basically, if you ask for a permit and you are not a convicted felon, they will give you one for $50.

Since this IS South Carolina, I would wager all of the people in my radio-discussion had guns of their/our own (two out of three referred to their weaponry). We ain't skeered of guns in these parts. But of course, WE are not the people we are worried about.

The Stand Your Ground law has already been abused and/or (as in the case of Zimmerman) used to cover up some shifty and suspicious behavior.

Some examples--

Jason Dickey Manslaughter Conviction overturned:

Chief Justice Jean Toal wrote that Jason Dickey acted in self-defense in the shooting of 24-year-old Joshua Boot of West Columbia.

Dickey was a security guard at an apartment building and has served five years of a 16-year sentence.

Toal wrote that Dickey was confronted by two younger, intoxicated large men advancing toward him at the Cornell Arms apartment complex in downtown Columbia.

Associate Justice Don Beatty dissented in the 4-1 ruling, saying Dickey could have avoided the confrontation and was not inside the apartment building at the time of the shooting.

Dickey said Joshua Boot didn't live in the building, refused an order to leave, and came after him with a bottle.

Columbia defense attorney Jack Swerling represented Dickey in his 2006 trial and says the state Supreme Court's recent move makes this an "important case," but does not set a legal precedent for the thousands of South Carolinians with concealed weapons permits to open fire if they feel threatened.
It doesn't? Of course it does.

Does a "bottle" equal a gun? I'd say one fellow was, um, outgunned, wouldn't you?

And what of a seemingly-simple situation that suddenly becomes very deadly, very quickly?:
Gregory Kirk Duncan didn't take too kindly to the way Christopher Spicer, a guest in his Greenville County home, was talking about a picture of his daughter in a cheerleading outfit. Duncan asked Spicer to leave, and he did — but not for long.

Within minutes after exiting the house, Spicer tried to come back in through the screen porch door. Duncan stepped out onto the porch with a gun in hand and told him to leave, but Spicer kept trying to force his way past. So Duncan put a bullet through Spicer's head.

Duncan was initially jailed for the shooting, but a Greenville County circuit court judge appealed his arrest, citing South Carolina's Protection of Persons and Property Act, a series of laws enacted in 2006 that guaranteed a person the right to defend him or herself against "great bodily injury" in his or her own home, vehicle, or business. The case made its way to the state Supreme Court, and in May 2011, based on testimonies that confirmed the preceding story, Duncan was exonerated. The court ruled that Spicer's forceful attempt at entering the home constituted an adequate threat to warrant self-defense under the law.
Known as the "Bluffton Christmas Tow Truck slaying"--Preston Oates is now using the aforementioned "Castle Doctrine" as his defense in the shooting of Carlos Olivera. (This is after his escape-plan didn't work out.)

The shooting has greatly heightened existing ethnic-tensions in Bluffton for well over a year now:
Nelson [Olivera] has replayed the scene hundreds of times in his head. Still, he can’t comprehend how a trivial parking dispute could have ended so badly, leaving his younger brother dead and four kids without their father.

“It’s so sad. It was the holiday, and we were all laughing, smiling and hugging,” he said, shaking his head. “Then, in five minutes, our whole lives changed forever.”

Tow truck driver Preston Oates fatally shot 34-year-old Carlos Olivera on Dec. 24 after the two men argued over a parking boot Oates placed on Olivera’s minivan.

But just how that transpired, who was at fault and what penalty Oates should pay has been the subject of a bitter debate that has stirred ethnic tensions in this sprawling suburban community in Beaufort County.

Oates, who said the shooting was in self-defense, is charged with manslaughter and a weapons violation in Olivera’s killing. But some in the community, including Olivera’s family, want the charge upgraded to murder.

They say Oates shot Olivera execution-style while the victim had his back turned. Olivera was carrying a gun that night as well, but he never fired his weapon, authorities have said.
Another well-known incident locally, involved the shooting of a homeless squatter in Spartanburg. They shot him before even calling law enforcement.

And then they charged him with trespassing:
No charges will be filed against a homeowner who shot a homeless man at a vacant Converse Heights house earlier this week.

Citing a section of state law called the Castle doctrine, the Spartanburg Public Safety Department announced in a written statement Friday night that no charges would be filed against Maria Thompson or her husband, Ray Earl “Chuck” Thompson Jr., both of Chesnee.

A warrant, however, has been signed against the homeless man, 31-year-old Gregory Wells, charging him with unlawful entry, which is a felony, according to the statement.

On Tuesday afternoon, officers responded to 183 Connecticut Ave., which is a vacant home that is listed for sale. According to an incident report, Ray Thompson and Maria Thompson were notified by a real estate agent that a man was in their home when the agent came to show it.

The couple went to the home, and as Maria Thompson was looking for a house key, her husband pulled on the door, which opened, the report states. The couple later told police that Wells met Ray Thompson at the door. Ray Thompson asked Wells what he was doing in the house, according to the report, and the homeowner pulled out his .45-caliber handgun as Wells approached. Ray Thompson told police that he warned Wells to back up or be shot, the report states.
And finally, last weekend, another incident in Spartanburg, as two men were shot during an apparent robbery:
The Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office says it happened shortly after midnight Saturday at the 300 Building of Lee’s Crossing Apartments on Powell Mill Road.

When deputies arrived they found two people lying on the ground outside the apartment window behind several air conditioning units.

Deputies say the resident of the apartment building shot the two suspects. One suspect died on the scene, the other was taken to the hospital where he died.

Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger says Michael Deangelo Gentry-Hill Jr. and Darren Tyree “Ty” Hill both from Spartanburg died from gun shots wounds.

The Sheriff’s Office says there is not a threat to the community. Investigators have spoken with the resident of the apartment and no charges has been filed at this time.
The hitch in this last case is that Douglas Williams, the 29-year-old who shot the two intruders, was not supposed to be carrying a weapon, as a convicted felon. Nonetheless, he seemed to believe the Stand Your Ground law applied to him too.

AND THIS IS HOW IT WORKS IN REAL LIFE, PEOPLE. Everyone thinks they have the right to shoot anyone who "advances" on them, or just squats in a house. We have regressed to the Wild West, where everyone can pull their glossy six-shooters on everyone else, while simultaneously claiming to be the wronged party.

SC State Representative Bakari Sellers has proposed a bill to repeal the “Stand Your Ground” provision of South Carolina’s "Protection of Persons and Property Act"--which targets the phrasing in the bill regarding "retreating"--something I am not sure I totally understand. My guests believed it is unlikely that the total PPPA could be repealed here, and I agree. But could we modify or reform part of the bill? This remains to be seen.

STAND YOUR GROUND will be the subject of a local Q-and-A here in Greenville at the Reedy River Missionary Baptist Church, Monday night, 6pm. People like me, who don't quite understand all of the particulars, will be able to ask Rep. Sellers questions in person. What is the difference between repeal of the entire PPPA and modifying the "Stand Your Ground" section? How is this any different from the existing "Castle doctrine"? This is your chance to learn! Be there or be square. Hope everyone with questions will suit up and show up, and ask those questions.

DEAD AIR is planning to be there, so if you have any questions that are specifically about the SYG law, go ahead and ask them here, and I'll see what I can do. Let your voices be heard!


Sevesteen said...

Stand Your Ground was irrelevant in the Zimmerman case, at least as a criminal matter. If Zimmerman was the aggressor, Stand Your Ground as written would not protect him, if he was attacked and in genuine fear, he didn't need Stand Your Ground. Stand your ground may prevent a civil suit if Zimmerman is found innocent, I don't know the specifics of other state's laws.

Typical Stand Your Ground is nowhere near a license to kill.

It requires probable cause that violent defense was illegal, not just that it happened before someone can be arrested or held. It also restores 'innocent until proven guilty', not requiring a defendant admit to the violence to claim self defense.

It blocks civil damage suits when the damages were caused by defense against criminal activity.

It means that you are not legally required to choose between submitting to thugs or giving up your right to self defense.

There isn't much else significant in most states stand your ground laws.

It is media hype that Stand Your Ground means I can legally whip out my gun and shoot anyone who makes me nervous. For me, the most important part is the civil aspect--I'm a white middle class homeowner without a criminal history, so I'll likely get prosecutorial discretion if I am involved in a self defense shooting. I'm unlikely to be involved in a marginal case, so my biggest issue would be defending myself against a suit by the family.

I'm curious about your logic in some of these cases--should someone be required to submit to being hit with a bottle? A bottle is a deadly weapon. Someone should be required to call the police before investigating their own home? If someone makes any mistake in judgement, the criminal who attacks them gets all the rights?

As for criminals claiming self defense--It may be a proper claim to defend against murder, if the self defense was genuine. On the other hand, it should not defend against the 'felon in possession of a weapon' charge, except if there was something like the felon taking the weapon from the attacker. (there was a case like that--a felon's girlfriend pointed a gun at him, he took it away from her and called the police to come get it, wound up arrested) It is also an interesting bit of logic--"because a criminal didn't follow the laws, we need to pass more laws that will only control the law abiding".

Imagine a scenario where I am armed, at a bus stop where I am legally allowed to be. A group of thugs come up to me and tell me 'this is our turf, leave or we will stab you'. Should I be required to leave? If I refuse and they then attempt to stab me, have I given up my right to defend with my gun? Does it matter if I initially didn't believe that they would try to stab me?

mikeb302000 said...

I appreciate Sevesteen's comments. It's been a while since I've seen one.

Nevertheless, the stand-your-ground nonsense has led to unnecessary killings. We've all seen the three-fold rise in Florida's justified homicides since its passing. Obviously, in the old days people weren't retreating or refraining from shooting in truly life-threatening situations, which means at least some of the increased incidents were bogus.

West said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DaisyDeadhead said...

West, I gave you several chances not to break my one, simple rule: do not insult me. You proved incapable of adhering to this very simple guideline... and in fact, you did it OVER AND OVER and I was very tolerant. TOO tolerant, obviously... your first comment here (now deleted) ALSO contained an insult about me being unemployed. Personal insults seem to be your entire approach to politics. (Are insults such an ingrained part of your style of political argument that you don't even realize you are doing it?) I gave you weeks, even months of chances, and you didn't seem to get it. When I said you were no longer welcome here, I was quite serious.

All you had to do was act decently, and that proved too difficult for you. I am tired of pleading for you to behave; you aren't five years old.

In any event, have a good life.

West said...

OK, but I'm still reading your blog- you can't stop me from doing that. You have a good life too Daisy. I do enjoy your blog.

Conseglieri said...

This is a well written and well documented piece about the "Stand your ground" law in South Carolina. While Sevesteen may be right that SYG laws, as written, wouldn't protect Zimmerman, the fact is that the Sanford Police used it as an excuse to not charge him with any crime. They also used it as an excuse to not investigate seriously, and this is not the only time this has happened, according to our guests on the show yesterday.

I can't help but wonder if the situation would be handled the same way if the assailant were black and the victim white. How about if the person killed were a Jehovah's Witness and the killer an atheist or Muslim? Would things work out the same way as they did for Zimmerman, the son of a lawyer and judge?

This is another example of a law being passed to "fix" a "problem" that wasn't there in the first place. We HAVE (as our guests explained) a "Castle Doctrine" which pretty much gives you the right to defend with deadly force when threatened. Justifiable homicide has always been the law, but this law seems designed to return us to "Frontier Days".

Sevesteen said...

The difference between Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground is that Castle only applies in your home, while Stand Your Ground protects where you have a legal right to be.

In practice, the 'right sort' of people have always effectively had Stand Your Ground--codifying it into law merely extends the protection to all.

I really am interested in where you think Stand Your Ground and self defense in general should and should not be used. What defensive weapons are legitimate against an attacker armed with a bottle? Why should decent people be required by law to retreat whenever thugs threaten violence?

Rackmount Monitor said...

This is stand your ground law states that a person use force in self defense, when there is logical belief of a risk; a person may use deadly force in public areas without a duty to retreat. Under these legal concepts with a person is justified in using deadly force in certain situations and the stands your ground law should be a defense or immunity to criminal charges and civil outfit.

Anonymous said...

Sevesteen - that squatter was in a abandon house - it was not 'their home'--as soon as you learned there was a squatter in , you call cops , they arrest them for trespassing. happened to me.

No reason to shoot somebody unless you are just plain trigger happy

Sevesteen said...

Abandoned house fits your narrative better, but if it were really abandoned rather than just empty, the owners wouldn't be investigating.

What actions are OK if a property owner investigates, finds a squatter that has feloniously broken into the property, and the squatter attacks the owner? What if the owner shows that he is armed and gets attacked anyway?

Conseglieri said...

Sevesteen wrote:

Abandoned house fits your narrative better, but if it were really abandoned rather than just empty, the owners wouldn't be investigating.

(I'll give you that. The house was empty, not abandoned, but many squatters do find refuge in abandoned buildings, from homes to factories, and the same thing could have happened in a building that *was* abandoned. As Daisy wrote though, the building owners did not "investigate". They heard from a real estate agent, got a GUN, and went to the building themselves to do what people would usually have the police do.)

What actions are OK if a property owner investigates, finds a squatter that has feloniously broken into the property, and the squatter attacks the owner? What if the owner shows that he is armed and gets attacked anyway?

(These actions would have been OK in my mind. Call the police. Drive by the building and see what's going on from outside, visit the neighbors to find out what the interloper's schedule seems to be and slip in and change the locks. Throw a brick through a window with a note attached telling them to get out. The first option seems to make the most sense to me.

Since there was nothing to indicate that the squatter attacked anyone, and since there is no indication that they were threatened in any way, your last questions seem like they are intended to solicit a strong response instead of real discussion.)

Sevesteen said...

When I ride a motorcycle, I wear protective gear--Not just the helmet I'm required, but also gloves and an abrasion-resistant jacket with armored protection for elbows, shoulders and back. I don't wear it only when I think I'm going to crash, I wear it routinely. While the risk that I will need it on any given ride is small, the potential benefit if I do need it is large compared to the effort of wearing it.

If I thought I would need my jacket and helmet on a particular ride I would make other plans--drive the car or stay home.

When I hear a noise in the garage, I generally investigate rather than call the police. When I investigate I generally bring a gun. I've never needed either the gun (or the police) under those circumstances, but again the effort is tiny compared to the potential benefit. And again, if I thought I would need a gun this time, I'd make other plans--like calling the police. It isn't practical to call the police every time--so far the worst I've found is a possum. (I didn't shoot it)

Maybe the homeowners took guns as a precaution. Maybe they carry routinely--since both of them were armed, that seems likely. Nevertheless, a gun in those circumstances is nowhere close to evidence that either of them expected or wanted to use it.

We don't have any evidence from the news story that the couple's story lacks credibility. You avoided the question here--if they were in fact attacked by the squatter, should the wife have been justified in shooting? Did they somehow lose their right to self defense by checking out their own property?

I also find it odd that OWS supporters would insist that we should just trust the police. If you get a report of a trespasser, call the police and wait for them before investigating, hope they don't have anything more important. If someone is hitting you with a bottle, call the police and wait.