TALLAHASSEE — Florida's "stand your ground" law allows the use of deadly force for self-protection even if an attacker or intruder is in retreat, an appellate court said Wednesday.
A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal issued that explanation for releasing Jimmy Hair from jail last month. Hair had spent two years awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge.
Hair, 28, was charged with fatally shooting Charles Harper, 26. Harper had forced his way into a car in which Hair was a passenger and tussled with him. The car was parked outside a Tallahassee nightclub where Harper had argued with the driver.
Sandi Copes, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Bill McCollum, said no decision had been made on whether to ask for a rehearing or possible appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. She declined further comment.
A trial judge had refused to grant Hair "stand your ground" immunity due to conflicting testimony on whether Harper was being pulled out of the car by a friend when he was shot, but the appellate court said that didn't matter.
"The statute makes no exception from immunity when the victim is in retreat," the panel wrote in an unsigned, unanimous opinion.
The ruling appears to conflict with a 2nd District Court of Appeal decision in 2007 denying immunity to Valrico resident David Heckman in a case that also began with an argument. Heckman had been charged with aggravated battery on suspicion of shooting Robert Carroll after Carroll left the garage attached to Heckman's home.
"We conclude that immunity does not apply because the victim was retreating," the 2nd District court wrote.
National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer said Wednesday's ruling tracked the intent of the 2005 law her organization supported. She said just because someone's in retreat doesn't mean that person won't turn around and attack again.
"If you attack somebody, be prepared to suffer the consequences," Hammer said.
The new law amended Florida's existing "Castle Doctrine" that allows people to use deadly force to defend themselves and others in their homes against the threat of death or great bodily harm.
It extends that right to public spaces including the street or a business and removes a duty to retreat before using deadly force.
State Attorney Willie Meggs, whose office attempted to prosecute Hair, said the ruling confirms the worst fears of the law's opponents.
"The next time this will come up is in a gang shootout," he said.
Hair, who had a concealed-weapons permit, said the gun went off accidentally when he tried to hit Harper with it. The appellate court also found the trial judge erred by finding the law didn't apply because the gun had gone off accidentally.
The Heckman ruling reversed a trial judge's decision to grant immunity. The case then went to trial, and a jury acquitted Heckman.