The Supreme Court of Florida recently ruled that the state’s “stand your ground” law will protect police officers in addition to private citizens. According to CNN, this ruling could make it more difficult to prosecute police officers in shooting cases.
The Stand Your Ground law, which protects people who shoot another person in self-defence, came to national attention following the death of 17-year-old black teen Trayvon Martin in 2012. The law in Florida basically offers immunity to those who are able to claim that they killed another person in an act of self defence, according to The New York Times. A successful claim in the pretrial phase of a case means that the defendant can completely avoid prosecution, as The Times explained. Before, only private citizens were allowed to claim Stand Your Ground immunity, but now police officers will be able to claim immunity too.
“Simply put, a law enforcement officer is a ‘person’ whether on duty or off, and irrespective of whether the officer is making an arrest,” said Florida Justice Alan Lawsone about the 7-0 decision, according to ABC News. “In common understanding, ‘person’ refers to a ‘human being,’ which is not occupation-specific and plainly includes human beings serving as law enforcement officers.”
It was already extremely rare for police officers to get criminally charged in Florida. It's now likely to be even rarer. Another police officer in Palm Beach Gardens saw his Stand Your Ground claim denied this year. His trial is coming soon.
— Frances Robles (@FrancesRobles) December 14, 2018
The ruling is part of a 2013 shooting in which Broward County deputy Peter Peraza killed 33-year-old black computer engineer Jermaine McBean. He was reportedly walking down a street in Fort Lauderdale and carrying an air rifle on his shoulders. According to The New York Times, Peraza said under oath that he shot McBean after his orders to drop the rifle were ignored. He also said that there had been nothing stopping McBean from following his orders, and he believed that McBean was aiming the rifle at him. The Times later revealed through photographic evidence that McBean had earbuds in when Peraza shot him. This directly went against the police officer’s sworn testimony. The disposition also found that McBean was mentally ill and didn’t have the rifle loaded.
According to The New York Times, the grand jury indicted Peraza for manslaughter. But his case never went to trial because Peraza was able to claim immunity under the Stand Your Ground law. The state appealed Peraza’s immunity, and the case eventually went to the state’s Supreme Court.
“Every unscrupulous law enforcement officer in Florida who kills a civilian now in suspicious circumstances will say he feared for his life, and even with eyewitnesses saying otherwise he walks and can’t be arrested or charged or brought to trial after this decision,” said David Schoen, who is the lawyer representing McBean’s family, to The Times. “It’s an injustice, it really is.”
The ruling has some serious repercussions. Specifically, it shifts the power from juries to elected local judges in the court. As The Times explained, judges often rely on the support of police officers to win elections and now a jury might not get the chance to hear disputed evidence.