Supporters will argue that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is vital to individual safety, but the measure never took judgment and common sense into the equation. It legalizes impulses that can be deadly.
On Friday morning in a Dade City courtroom, Judge Susan Barthle ruled that retired Tampa police officer Curtis Reeves’ impulse when he shot Chad Oulson to death after an argument didn’t convince her that he was in sufficient fear for his life.
This clears the way for the 74-year-old Reeves to stand trial for second-degree murder. He could win acquittal there if a jury of his peers find his story more believable than the judge. Fox 13 in Tampa reported she wrote in her ruling, “The physical evidence contradicts the defendant’s version of events.”
Reeves’ version of the fatal afternoon when his argument with Oulson got out of control can be summed up in a statement he made last week during his testimony: “At that point (in the argument), it was his life or mine.”
I can’t crawl insides Reeves’ head and neither can you to know if he was using “Stand Your Ground” as a ready-made excuse after realizing what he had done. But I can say that this tragic situation is exactly what people who oppose this law warned could happen – and likely will happen again.
There is a proposal in the Legislature to make prosecutors prove a defendant didn’t feel threatened.
Imagine the havoc that could unleash.
This law assumes that anyone under duress will be cool enough under pressure to use lethal force only to save themselves or their family from a real threat. This isn’t a movie set though, where James Bond calmly dispatches three or four bad guys trying to kill him and then orders a martini, shaken not stirred.
In the real world, a jittery old man in a darkened movie theater decides a younger, larger man is out to kill him when the two started arguing over cellphone use (before the film started, by the way).
There is no doubt Oulson could have handled the situation much better, but so could Reeves. Either one could have walked away, and we never would have heard of either man.
But no. We have “Stand Your Ground” and its false premise that every situation like this could be lethal. How can you tell? It makes the shooter the victim.
Judge Barthle didn’t buy that argument.
If the looney bill that would force prosecutors prove a defendant didn’t feel threatened ever becomes law, though, judges may have no choice but to buy it next time.