State high court to rule: Does 'stand your ground' protect felons who shoot?

Published Jul. 4, 2014

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court will consider whether convicted felons have the right to claim immunity under the state's "stand your ground" self-defense law — even if they are barred from possessing guns in the first place.

Justices agreed this week to hear the case of Brian Bragdon, who was charged in Palm Beach County with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle, discharging a firearm from a vehicle and being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to court documents.

According to the Palm Beach Post, Bragdon was arrested in 2012 after he shot another man outside a strip club in suburban West Palm Beach.

An arrest affidavit, the newspaper reported, showed Bragdon and a group of other patrons got involved in a fight inside the club. The altercation continued outside and investigators said they later found 40 shell casings.

At some point, Bragdon leaned out the window of his car and shot — striking one of the patrons in the back and hitting a truck twice, the report said.

Bragdon argued that he fired the gun while trying to defend himself and sought to get the charges dismissed under "stand your ground." But a circuit judge ruled that Bragdon was prevented from seeking immunity because he was already a convicted felon in possession of a firearm at the time of the shooting. The 4th District Court of Appeal also ruled against him.

The appeals court based its decision on its own 2012 ruling in the case of Harvey Hill, a felon who shot a man during a confrontation over a woman and then claimed he did so in self-defense. The court ruled he couldn't do so under "stand your ground."

"Here, the defendant used the very instrumentality that he was not lawfully allowed to possess to injure his alleged assailant," the court ruled in the Hill case.

But between Hill and Bragdon, a different court — the 2nd District Court of Appeal — found in another case last year that there was at least one section of the "stand your ground" law that could apply even to felons.

The appeal court was considering the case of Aaron Little of Lee County, who shot and killed another man in a confrontation.

Little had been walking to his girlfriend's house with a friend when they encountered an acquaintance of the friend, court records show. The acquaintance pulled two guns and Little ran into a house to get away. There, he pulled his own gun out of a pants pocket, but the homeowner made him get out.

Outside, Little shot when the acquaintance pointed a gun at him, the court records show.

The "stand your ground" law says people can use deadly force and do not have a duty to retreat if they think it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.

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In the Little case, the 2nd District Court of Appeal determined that a section of the law "does not preclude persons who are engaged in an unlawful activity from using deadly force in self-defense when otherwise permitted."

It's not clear when the Supreme Court might rule. An order issued Wednesday said the court would set a time for oral arguments later.