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Felon Gets Immunity for Gun Use in Self-Defense

(CN) - A convicted felon who shot and killed an acquaintance on a Florida street in 2010 is entitled to immunity under the Stand Your Ground law, a state appeals court ruled.

Aaron Little had been charged with second-degree murder with a firearm, but he claimed that he shot Demond Brooks in self-defense.

The decision notes that, without apparent provocation, Brooks had leaped from the backseat of a car, pulled two handguns from his waistband, pointed them at Little and yelled that he as "going to make it rain."

A woman who heard the commotion outside her door went out on her porch at which point Little ran into her home and pulled a handgun out of his pocket.

The residents then kicked Little out of the house. Apparently unaware that Little was carrying a weapon, Brooks then backed Little up against the car, raised his guns and pointed them at Little.

Little then raised his own gun, closed his eyes and "pulled the trigger several times," according to the ruling.

Brooks died at the scene. A Lee County judge refused to grant Little immunity under a Section 776.032(1) of the so-called Stand Your Ground law after finding that Little chose to arm himself inside the house and then re-engage Brooks outside.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal credited Little's story and granted him a writ of prohibition Wednesday,

"We agree with Little that his use of deadly force was justified under the circumstances," Judge Morris Silberman wrote for the panel.

"Specifically, there is no evidence whatsoever that Little reengaged Brooks," Silberman added. "The evidence establishes that Little was afraid of Brooks and repeatedly asked for help in calming Brooks down. ... Little walked past Brooks with extreme caution and with his gun out of sight. When Brooks started ranting at him, Little implored Brooks to calm down. There is no evidence that Little made any threatening moves toward Brooks or said any threatening words to him. But Brooks raised his guns and pointed them at Little anyway, and Little responded to the threat."

The court refused to waver even though Little, as a felon in possession of a firearm, was engaged in an unlawful activity at the time he used the deadly force.

"Little sought immunity based on the use of force as permitted in section 776.012(1)," Silberman wrote. "His status as a felon in illegal possession of a firearm did not preclude that claim of immunity. And, as set forth above, Little established by a preponderance of the evidence that his use of force was justified to prevent his imminent death or great bodily harm as provided for in section 776.012(1). Accordingly, Little was entitled to immunity under section 776.032(1)."

The ruling concludes with the panel certifying a question to the Florida Supreme Court.

"Is a defendant who establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that his use of deadly force is permitted in section 776.012(1), Florida statutes (2009), entitled to immunity under section 776.032(1) even though he is engaged in an unlawful activity at the time he uses the deadly force," the panel asked.

Stand Your Ground allows people to use deadly force if they reasonably believe it is needed to prevent death or great bodily harm to themselves, or the commission of a forcible felony. Similar laws are on the books in at least 15 other states.

The law has proven controversial, particularly since the February 2012 shooting death of an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, at the hands of George Zimmerman, a 29-year-old former neighborhood watch captain at a gated community in central Florida.

Earlier this month, Zimmerman waived his right to appear at a Stand Your Ground hearing at which he could have asserted his own self-defense claim and possibly seen the murder charges against him dropped.

Zimmerman's case will now go to trial later this year.

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