Can Felons Use the “Stand Your Ground” Defense?

A thought-provoking legal argument from a courtroom in Palm Beach County is heading to the Florida Supreme Court. The case begs the question of whether or not a convicted criminal can invoke the state’s Stand Your Ground law as justification for shooting someone.
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The controversial law has been receiving a great deal of attention recently, playing crucial roles in the recent Florida criminal cases first of George Zimmerman and then of Michael Dunn, both of whom fatally shot an individual they claimed posed a legitimate threat to their safety. In those cases, as our Palm Beach and Broward criminal defense attorneys understand, the defendants might have done questionable things prior to the incident, but neither was a convicted felon.

The case to be decided by the Florida Supreme Court is that of 25-year-old Palm Beach resident Brian Bragdon, a convicted felon who shot and killed two people in 2012; Bragdon claims it was in self-defense but the prosecutors disagree. Without a doubt, this ruling — and the arguments to be made leading up to the decision — will have a lasting impact on the criminal justice system in the Sunshine State.

As our criminal defense lawyers understand the issue at hand, the defendant was a convicted felon (having been arrested for, charged with and convicted of crimes relating to dealing cocaine) when, two years ago, he shot and killed two men outside of a strip club in the West Palm Beach area. According to state law, because Bragdon was (and is) a convicted felon, he no longer had/has the right to bear arms. As such, and as prosecutors have pointed out, he can’t use the “Stand Your Ground” defense because he shouldn’t have been in possession of a firearm in the first place.

Still, whether his possession of a gun was lawful is in many ways an issue separate from that of whether or not the “Stand Your Ground” legal defense is legitimate. Despite the fact that the self-defense law states that the rule applies in instances in which the individual in question is not engaged in unlawful activity, we must ask whether this caveat endangers the wellbeing of the individual.

Felons are deprived of the right to keep and bear arms to prevent them from harming others, not to stop them from being able to protect themselves. So while it is perhaps understandable that prosecutors would want to charge Bragdon with violating the law prohibiting him from keeping a gun, we should look at the issue of the “Stand Your Ground” defense from different angles to truly understand the matter.

Say, for example, he killed the two men – out of self-defense – with a metal rod. Now, there’s no law against felons keeping and bearing metal rods, so would this legal defense be an issue? Alternatively, what if in the midst of a skirmish, Bragdon had grabbed a gun that he saw on the ground and used it to kill those whom he felt posed a threat; he wouldn’t have been owning or keeping a gun, he would have just found it on the floor – would the “Stand Your Ground” defense be questioned in this case?

Keeping a gun was against the law; there is no question about that. But, as local constitutional law professor Bob Jarvis points out, by not allowing people like Bragdon to utilize the self-defense law, you’re depriving them of a right given to all other Floridian citizens. Just because someone Bragdon has made mistakes in the past doesn’t mean that he should have to surrender the right to defend himself.

Our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know that this ruling will have serious implications, not only for Bragdon and his legal fate but also for the interpretation of self-defense laws in our state and around the country.

If you have been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County, please contact our experienced criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert. To schedule a free and private legal consultation, give us a call at 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363). We look forward to assisting you.

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