Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Public safety

Carlton: Sounding a warning shot about 'stand your ground' bill

What could possibly be next for our "stand your ground" law that can make it legal to shoot first and ask questions later?

How about pending legislation that says if a shooting is justified under this troubling law, what happened can be erased from the public record?

If that's not enough to drop your jaw, it's only part of a bill sailing along in Tallahassee to extend "stand your ground" protection to someone who fires a warning shot. Because, hey, we can't have enough gunfire around here.

Tucked into that bill is an amendment that's practically a kiss blown to the powerful National Rifle Association. Should it pass, people whose charges are dropped by prosecutors or judges because of a "stand your ground" defense that says they were justifiably threatened can then get their entire "criminal history" records expunged.

Which means those arrest and court records would not be accessible to you, the public. A tragic incident in which someone was arrested after someone was hurt or killed would have no such record you could see. A person who was accused of that crime could say on an application for a job or a lease: No, never been arrested — even though he had.

People can already apply to have records for certain crimes expunged under very narrow circumstances. But this amendment — which involves charges of murder, manslaughter and assault — could erode some of the truest, most time-honored elements of our justice system:

Openness. Transparency. The right of citizens to see the system work for themselves instead of taking the authorities' word for it. (Nothing to see here, folks.)

A Times investigation of 200 such cases included many in which the person who shot, stabbed or otherwise injured or killed someone wasn't prosecuted because of a "stand your ground" defense. The report exposed how the law is applied inconsistently depending on where in Florida an incident happens, with differing outcomes. It showed some eyebrow-raising circumstances, such as victims shot in the back.

All of which should be open for you, the public, to consider.

By the way, if the NRA supported, say, a free lifetime Disney pass for anyone who successfully stood his ground, how fast do you suppose Florida legislators would make it happen? They are, after all, poised to pass a law forbidding disciplining schoolchildren who make play guns from Pop-Tarts.

On erasing those public (at least for now) records, consider the 2011 case of Greyston Garcia of Miami. He armed himself with a kitchen knife when someone was stealing the radio from his truck. He chased the fleeing burglar down. When the burglar swung a bag of stolen radios at him, Garcia blocked it and stabbed him to death. He did not call police. He went home and went to sleep. He later sold the stolen stereos. After testimony that the bag of radios could have done him serious harm, Garcia walked.

Are those details you would want to know in considering whether "stand your ground" should stand as is? And if it is a good law, wouldn't a public airing of its cases prove it?

How do you look at a law that can justify killing someone if you don't get to know what actually happened? But maybe that's the point. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

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