Saturday, May 26, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: 'Stand ground' law goes from bad to worse

It is bad enough that Florida lawmakers are rushing to expand the application of the "stand your ground" law that should be repealed rather than made even broader. But the House took recklessness to a new extreme Thursday by approving legislation that also allows defendants in self-defense cases to keep from the public the entire record of the case. That would essentially create secret arrests and prosecutions, and it has no place in a justice system that has to be held publicly accountable. Lawmakers should be repealing "stand your ground,'' not fashioning a cover-up for those hiding behind a law that legalizes deadly violence.

The House approved a bill Thursday that expands the loophole against criminal penalties under "stand your ground" by legalizing the threat to use force in self-defense cases. This would open the door to more frontier justice by allowing people to fire warning shots from a firearm without having to worry about being arrested on assault charges. It is a ridiculous measure that endangers anyone in public places or those living in condos, apartments or other multifamily settings.

An amendment rushed through this week by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, would allow those found to have used justifiable force to seek to expunge their court records so the public could not have access to them. Gaetz said those found to have acted lawfully should not "have their life ruined" by the paper trail of a court record. If prosecutors or the courts opt to drop or dismiss charges in a self-defense case, those cleared could have the entire criminal history expunged from the court file. In other words, it never happened.

"Stand your ground" already makes it easy to get away with murder. The statute allows for a pretrial hearing so a judge can examine whether the broad immunity for self-defense under Florida law would even allow a case to go forward. With the House change, the accused could use the pretrial hearing to avoid both a full-fledged trial and a public examination of the case.

By expunging the records, prosecutors could drop charges without any public accounting. Trial judges could dismiss these charges with no explanation. The net effect is that the most powerful elected officials in any county could dismiss a murder case without a public rationale. Not only does the measure create secret trials and courts, it invites selective enforcement statewide. There would be no way to ensure that justice was applied equally from Miami to Palatka. And it would enable defendants in these cases to lawfully lie about their criminal histories. What public purpose does that serve in a state with a constitutional right to openness?

Arrests and criminal charges are public records, and criminal trials are conducted in public. Those accused of crimes have a right to a fair trial but not to anonymity. By Gaetz's rationale, why should anyone accused and later cleared of any crime "have their life ruined" by the existence of a court file? Would it be okay for prosecutors and judges to hold every trial in secret, disclosing only those that end in a conviction?

Gaetz is the same gun zealot who vowed when hearings on the "stand your ground'' law were called after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin that he would not change "one damn comma.'' Now he wants those killers hiding behind this bad law to leave no public record of what happened when they escape criminal charges. That violates the very tenets of the American criminal justice system and the right to public records spelled out in the Florida Constitution that Gaetz claims to care so much about.

Comments
Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still canít stop bad judgment

Editorial: Welcome Bayshore changes still canít stop bad judgment

Itís human nature in following any tragedy to imagine: How could this have been prevented? On that score, the city of Tampa responded appropriately to the deaths this week of a mother and her toddler whom police say were hit by a teenage driver racin...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: Filling Rocky Point lagoon to build townhomes is an empty-headed idea

Editorial: Filling Rocky Point lagoon to build townhomes is an empty-headed idea

One of the worst ideas in a long time in the field of urban planning received a blessing this month when the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission approved a land-use change for a project that calls for filling three acres of water insi...
Published: 05/25/18
Editorial: Searching for the real Adam Putnam

Editorial: Searching for the real Adam Putnam

Send out an Amber Alert for Adam Putnam. The red-haired, affable fellow who has served capably as a state legislator, member of Congress and agriculture commissioner is missing. In his place is a far-right caricature who has branded himself as a prou...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Editorial: A strong economic case for restoring voting rights for felons

Editorial: A strong economic case for restoring voting rights for felons

Floridians are paying a steep price for a system that makes it as difficult as possible for people who leave prison to reintegrate into civic life. Gov. Rick Scottís clemency process isnít just archaic and cruel ó it also wastes enormous public resou...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Editorial: Trump right to cancel North Korea talks on nuclear weapons

Editorial: Trump right to cancel North Korea talks on nuclear weapons

Regardless of the reason, the cancellation of the U.S.-North Korea summit to address Pyonyangís nuclear program is hardly the worst possible outcome of this high-stakes diplomatic gamble. President Donald Trump was unprepared, North Koreaís Kim Jong ...
Published: 05/24/18
Updated: 05/25/18

NFL kneels before the altar of profits

The owners of the 32 National Football League teams sent a wrongheaded and, frankly, un-American message to their players Wednesday: Expressing your opinion during the national anthem is no longer permitted."A club will be fined by the League if its ...
Published: 05/24/18

Editorial: A positive first step in ensuring student access at USFSP

As a task force sorts out countless details involved in folding the University of South Florida St. Petersburg back into the major research university based in Tampa, ensuring access for good Pinellas students remains a concern. An enhanced cooperati...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/25/18
Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

Legislation that waters down the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and was sent to President Donald Trump this week is a mixed bag at best. Some provisions recognize that Congress may have gone too far in some areas in the wake of the Great Recession to place new ...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18
Editorial: Honoring our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day

Editorial: Honoring our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day

The rising tensions with Iran, the resurgence of violence in the Mideast and the uncertainty over a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea combine to create an unsettling time this Memorial Day. These grave threats to peace are another reminder of...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/25/18

Another voice: The chutzpah of these men

A new phase of the #MeToo movement may be upon us. Call it the "not so fast" era: Powerful men who plotted career comebacks mere months after being taken down by accusations of sexual misconduct now face even more alarming claims.Mario Batali, the ce...
Published: 05/22/18
Updated: 05/23/18