It's a Florida law that, thanks to a case resolved in July 2013, much of the American public has heard: "Stand Your Ground." The same concept is being invoked in a trial in Northwest Florida's Gulf County. Experienced readers might question the attention to a criminal case in a blog dedicated to our work as a Panama City injury law firm, a civil law practice. On a basic level, criminal behavior can give rise to civil litigation, such as a wrongful death suit. While criminal law is separate from civil, it can and does bleed over into civil cases. Further and more importantly, and as perhaps few realize, Stand Your Ground applies in civil courts as well as criminal tribunals.
The News Herald is following the trial of Walton Butler, who has been charged with second-degree murder using a fire arm. Butler's charges also include the suggestion that his actions showed racial prejudice, known more commonly as a hate crime charge. The charge stems from the shooting of Everett Gant, age 32, in Port St. Joe during July 2012 and his resulting death. Evidence suggests the shooting occurred after Butler had made racist comments. After several exchanges among various people, including Gant's girlfriend, a man commented that someone was coming over to kill Butler and himself because of the language. Gant later appeared at Butler's door and yelled threats. Later moments are in dispute, but eventually Gant entered the apartment and Butler shot him between the eyes with a .22.
Butler's defense team has made several factual and legal arguments, including suggesting their client's IQ, listed as 81, is at the upper end of the borderline range of intellectual function. This fact is also used in the defense's "Stand Your Ground" argument, a Florida law principle. They claim Butler acted to protect himself from imminent death or severe bodily harm and is therefore immune from arrest and prosecution.
Florida's "Stand Your Ground Law" is codified in Section 776 of the Florida Statutes, specifically 776. 013(3). The law provides a person is not required to retreat and may use deadly (or lesser) force if: 1) acting lawfully 2) in a place the person is lawfully permitted 3) and is attacked. The person must also reasonably believe the action is needed to prevent death or grave bodily injury. Under the provision, these circumstances make the person immune from criminal prosecution as well as civil action for the use of force (with exceptions for use of force against law enforcement and similar situations).
Although not formally invoked in the George Zimmerman case, unlike appears to be the plan in the Butler defense, the specter of the Stand Your Ground law loomed large over the Zimmerman case and likely contributed to the "Not Guilty" verdict. It remains to be seen whether the principle is invoked in any civil case against either Butler or Zimmerman. If invoked, there is a good chance that the law's constitutionality will be challenged.
A ruling on the validity of Florida's Stand Your Ground law will impact civil cases, such as personal injury and wrongful death suits that arise out of violent altercations. This includes possible claims tied to the death of Trayvon Martin and Everett Gant. As a focused and dedicated Panama City victim's law firm, we will closely follow any developments on the issue and use the developments to provide the best possible legal service to our clients.