CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Standing their ground: More citizens enforcing the law themselves

"I'm killing you right now! You shouldn't have looked at me, man! Go ahead. Say goodbye. Say goodbye. I'm blowing you away right here.''

But when the teen suddenly fled, Morelli's fear morphed to rage. Pursuing his attacker and dodging bullets in a high-speed car chase -- the action caught on a 911 tape -- Morelli was able to jot down a tag number that helped police track down the assailant.

"It was straight out of Clint Eastwood-type stuff,'' Morelli said later. "But I knew if I did nothing, nothing would happen.''

It turned out to be quite a coup for public safety: The youth, police allege, had terrorized city schools in a series of handgun incidents and had robbed another family in a home invasion.

At the same time, Morelli's actions pose troubling questions about just how far citizens should go in protecting themselves from crime.

Like Bernard Goetz, the "Subway Vigilante'' who shot four would-be robbers on a New York City train in 1984, a new generation of citizens who are retaliating against thugs and attackers are finding acceptance, even celebrity, among a public frustrated with crime.

Just this fall, a Tipton County homeowner made news when he exchanged gunfire on the street with fleeing burglars. A Rosemark man gained wide attention, too when he held two intruders at gunpoint.

"I've always felt if you're in fear of your life you can use your gun,'' said Steve Rutter, who pulled a 9mm handgun on intruders who'd tried to drive off with his 16-foot flatbed trailer. Rutter's action led police to bust up a large theft ring. [Mark Godsey]

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The right of any citizen to arrest a felon is a longstanding legal tradition. I say, good for the intended victim. He protected the next and the next (and so on) victim from this thug.

The police can't be everywhere. There will be fewer of them with the budget cuts all levels of government are facing. We need to stand up for ourselves.

Posted by: DavidC | Jan 6, 2009 5:10:48 AM

Even though I think they are a good idea, it is perfectly fine to question the proliferation of "Stand Your Ground" Laws, or the usage of them. However, I feel like this article is implying that a man trying to get a license plate off of his assailant's car is a vigilante along the lines of Bernie Goetz. In addition, without knowing all of the facts of the Florida case, they imply that the man there wrongfully used the law to avoid prosecution. That may or may not be true, but the article basically presumes that man to be guilty.

Frankly, I'm not troubled by Mr. Morelli's actions at all.

Posted by: Chris Feldhaus | Jan 6, 2009 5:15:22 AM

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