Stand Your Ground, in Sanford or a School Bus

     (CN) – Florida’s “stand your ground” law may protect a middle schooler in his delinquency hearing over a fight with a girl on the bus, a state appeals court ruled.
     As explained by the school bus driver, a boy named T.P. had been trying to get off at his stop one afternoon when a girl named A.F. grabbed the boy’s jacket.
     The girl was larger than T.P., and the students began to fight. She pulled T.P. down on the seat and punched him, the driver said. As T.P. fought back, his grandmother and mother who were waiting at the stop boarded the bus to break up the fight.
     The grandmother struck the girl and T.P. got off the bus. Police then arrested T.P.
     A.F. gave the court two different versions of events, but blamed T.P. for the fight in both stories.
     She first testified at the hearing that she was ahead of T.P. in the aisle of the bus when T.P. bumped her. A.F. then allegedly tapped T.P., pulled his jacket and accused him of bumping her. Seeing his mother and grandmother coming into the bus, T.P. allegedly punched A.F.’s face. A.F. said T.P.’s family then joined in on the beating.
     On cross-examination, she said T.P. bumped her, pushed her out of the way and was already past her when she “fought him down on the seat.” She said he hit her when she turned around, and they started fighting.
     T.P. moved to dismiss the charges based on the “stand your ground” law, but a juvenile delinquency judge in Broward County found that the law applied only to the defense of home or vehicle, not on a bus.
     T.P.’s bus driver never testified at his trial on the merits, and the court found him guilty of battery.
     A three-judge panel of Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals reversed last week, finding that “T.P. had the right to assert a defense under section 776.013(3).”
     This section of the state’s “stand your ground” law provides: “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
     Here, T.P. “was not engaged in an unlawful activity, and he had the right to be on the bus going home from school,” Judge Martha Warner wrote for the court. “He had no duty to retreat and, despite the trial court’s misgivings, had the right to ‘meet force with force’ if he reasonably believed that such force was necessary to prevent great bodily harm to himself. Whether he was faced with ‘force’ from A.F. and whether he reasonably believed that such force was necessary to prevent harm to himself were factual matters for the trial court to determine based upon a preponderance of the evidence.”
     Warner added that “stand your ground” is not so limited as to apply only to homes and vehicles.
     “In fact, it is extremely broad in its grant of the right of a person to protect himself or herself in any situation where the person is not engaged in an unlawful activity and is in a place where the person is entitled to be,” the ruling states. “Although the trial court’s misgivings of applying it to a fight on a school bus may be well taken, it is not the place of the trial court, or this court, to refuse to apply the plain meaning of the statute.”
     On remand, the court must consider T.P.’s defense “under a proper construction of the statute.”
     The trial court must determine by a preponderance of evidence whether AF was the aggressor in the bus altercation, and whether T.P. was reasonable in his belief that the force he used against A.F. was necessary to protect himself, according to the ruling.
     If T.P. prevails on both issues, the trial court it must dismiss the delinquency petition. If not, the court may reimpose its battery adjudication and disposition.
     Passed in 2005, Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law has been in the spotlight in the midst of the George Zimmerman murder trial in Sanford, Fla.
     Zimmerman, 29, was acquitted of second-degree murder charges earlier this month. He shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012 and claimed self-defense under the “stand your ground” law.
     Martin was black and Zimmerman is a white Hispanic. Prosecutors said Zimmerman profiled Martin because he was black and shot him because he wanted to, not because he had to.
     Zimmerman was arrested 44 days after the shooting amid national protests led by civil rights leaders.
     Student demonstrators have occupied office of Florida Gov. Rick Scott for more than a week in hopes of convincing that the governor will call a special session to revisit the law.
     Scott said the students should speak to their state representatives. He also directed the head of the Department of Juvenile Justice to speak with the students.
     Singers such as Stevie Wonder and Justin Timberlake have canceled shows in Florida and anywhere else that has the “stand your ground” law.

%d bloggers like this: