Home National Politics Florida’s Year-round Hunting Season on Homo Sapiens

Florida’s Year-round Hunting Season on Homo Sapiens

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by Paul Goldman

According to the local police in Sanford, Florida, backed up until recently by the local prosecutor, the Attorney General and the Governor, Chapter 776 of the Florida Statutes created a year-round hunting season on your local homo sapiens. A mean alligator gets more protection in the Sunshine State than humans walking upright on two legs based on how the law enforcement community in Florida interprets what is called the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense statute. Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, was shot and killed a month ago by a self-appointed neighborhood “watch captain” a short distance from his the townhouse of his father’s fiance. The killer stood by the body when police arrived, claiming self-defense under Florida’s human hunting license law.  

“Stand Your Ground” statutes were originally intended to implement the “Your Home Is Your Castle” doctrine, to allow a family to protect itself from home invaders without having to be constitutional lawyers when deciding whether to use lethal force. I don’t have any sympathy for those who break into someone’s home with felonious intent. As they say, if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. Someone breaks into my house, I am not about to use a lifeline to call a lawyer and ask whether I might get into trouble should I start unloading a shotgun, or Glock 17, in the direction of those doing the B and E.

But over time, the reach of the “Castle doctrine” has been extended in some states – carjackings is one area  – until it set in motion what happened to Trayvon Martin, and many other victims we don’t know about.

Here is a citation to the Florida statute at issue in this matter.          

The murderer of Mr. Martin is claiming, without any pushback from local and state law enforcement (at least until the case went viral), that the statute covers this situation. Let’s review what happened: the shooter appointed himself the head of the neighborhood watch, cruised the neighborhood looking for people he believed were suspicious, called 911, talked to a dispatcher who knows him (as these calls have been regularly made for weeks), was told by the dispatcher to back off and call for the real cops if needed, instead kept following Mr. Martin, and thus purposely set in motion a situation where he claims the two of them got into a scuffle, causing the shooter to fear great bodily harm and thus justifying killing an unarmed teenager on his way back home from a convenience store to get snacks.

So I ask: If this killing is considered justified under Chapter 776 (because of which Florida officials say the law protects the shooter from any criminal charges or civil liability), then how does it not create a 24/7/365 hunting season on homo sapiens?  

The facts of the case suggest that the local Sanford police were using Mr. Zimmerman as an armed and dangerous neighborhood watch commander, as a human web cam cruising the area to help prevent crime. It is easy in Florida to get a carry permit. Local law enforcement are well aware of these “police wannabee” types.

Mr. Zimmerman, I bet, was well aware of Chapter 776 and read it as a 24/7/365 hunting license, allowing him to use that concealed weapon with deadly force if the right situation arose.

Governor Jeb Bush never should have signed a law that Florida law enforcement officials believed gave Zimmerman a “get of out of jail free” card for premeditated murder.

That’s right: premeditation is clear in this case, because Zimmerman tracked the victim with a concealed weapon, believing Chapter 776 gave him the option of killing if things got out of hand.

To me, this is plain and simple a case of political murder, because a badly written law made such a chain of events inevitable. Indeed, I have a hard time believing it is the only such case in Florida since the law was enacted.

Mr. Zimmerman had been out in his neighborhood thinking he was a quasi-cop for weeks, strapped and loaded with Chapter 776 in the barrel.

If I were writing a novel, it would start with this sentence: The gunshots were fired in Sanford, but the bullets had been loaded at the state capitol, initialed by the Governor.

Jeb Bush says he never intended the law to cover this situation. The time to make that clear was years ago, before he signed it.  

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    Typical GOPer comment: They never intended the law to cover this situation. Any time that vigilantes loaded with paranoia and macho bravado decide to become the law, this very thing is going to happen. A home invasion is one thing. Prowling the streets looking for whoever one determines is “suspicious” is quite another.

    If Zimmerman had done what the police dispatcher told him to do, Trayvon would be alive and with his family. If the law enforcement officials in Florida let Zimmerman get away with this, I surely hope that the best lawyers in America take a civil suit against him pro bone and make him pay that way. It worked with O.J.

  • maurystreet

    Good analysis.

    The real problem is that the officers who conducted the investigation made a legal decision. They did not call (it seems) call in the commonwealth’s attorney of the county, but decided on their own that the facts met the statute.

    They conducted a shoddy investigation, which is why witnesses said they were not talked with. And it seems that the forensic work that could help determine what happened before the shooting was not done either.

    The job of the police was to investigate and then to offer a recommendation to the commonwealth’s attorney, the chief legal officer, to determine whether the facts of the case (and that means all the facts including forensics and witness statements) warranted a charge. Police officers cannot both investigate and act as judges.

    The pressure, fortunately, has forced the commonwealth’s attorney to do act appropriately to bring the issue to a grand jury.  Hopefully, all of the information that can be presented will be presented so an appropriate ruling can be made. Hopefully, the Florida AG and the Justice Department will be paying sufficient attention to ensure that all of the facts are properly considered and reviewed.  

    maurystreet