Times: Will we consider it justice if Reeves walks?

Curtis Reeves trial

Most people seem to think "stand your ground'' is a pretty good law.

Politicians swear that's true, and the polls typically back up the concept. We like how it makes us feel safer. We like the idea that it gives us an upper hand against the bad guys.

We like it right up until the moment we see someone else using it.

When prosecutors drop charges against two teenagers allegedly involved in a gunbattle that left eight people wounded during a holiday parade, then "stand your ground'' seems a little nutty.

When a drug dealer kills rivals in two separate incidents and walks away each time, then it seems the law might be producing unintended consequences.

And when a husband on a date with his wife is shot in the middle of a movie theater, we put the world on pause to watch the "stand your ground'' hearing of an elderly, retired cop.

On its surface, the killing of Chad Oulson by Curtis Reeves in a Wesley Chapel theater seems absurd. Oulson wasn't armed. This didn't take place in some spooky alley in a sketchy part of town. And the entire incident involved something ridiculously trivial.

And yet, the way the statute is written, I think it's likely Reeves will go free.

This is why, nearly 12 years after it was passed, the law remains a touchy issue.

When you think of "stand your ground" in abstract terms — Of course I should be able to defend myself against a threat! — then it makes perfect sense.

But when confronted with a specific case involving someone else — Do you really believe Oulson would have pummeled an old man in a theater? — the vague wording of the law suddenly seems problematic.

There are two words that are critical here:

" … reasonably believes … ''

That is the term Florida Statute 776.012 uses. A person is allowed to defend himself or herself if they are in fear of death or great bodily injury. And the threshold to determine that is "reasonably believes.''

That seems to be a different standard from the "beyond a reasonable doubt'' or "preponderance of evidence'' or "clear and convincing evidence'' terms that we're used to hearing in court cases.

Now, "reasonably believes'' is not new to Florida. It was part of the statute even before "stand your ground" was passed in 2005. The difference is the new statute took away any responsibility to walk away from a confrontation, which put reasonable belief of danger into a whole new dimension.

So is it reasonable to think Reeves feared for his safety?

Personally, I don't think he was in imminent peril. But what I think doesn't matter. It is whether Reeves can convince the judge that, at that moment, he felt he was in danger.

When you consider Oulson was younger and bigger, and was the one who turned around to face Reeves, and was the one who reached across the seats to initiate contact, Reeves has an interesting argument.

You know, overall crime is down in Florida, and supporters of "stand your ground'' say the law has been a useful deterrence. But gun-related homicides are up, and critics say the law has made too many people confrontational and trigger happy.

It's entirely possible both sides are correct.

But does that mean Curtis Reeves was correct?

Tampa Bay Times


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