Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Florida Court Rules that Students May Stand Their Ground on the School Bus

In the wake of George Zimmerman’s recent acquittal for the death of Trayvon Martin and the national debate that has followed about Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, comes a case that shows the broad reach of that law. In T.P. v. Florida, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed a juvenile delinquency adjudication of battery, finding that the trial court below misconstrued Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law to only apply to homes and vehicles and not to public spaces such as a school bus. The Stand Your Ground law provides immunity from prosecution if the defendant is justified in the use of force under Fla. Stat. 776.013. The battery allegedly occurred while T.P., a middle school student in Broward County, and the complainant, A.F., were riding a school bus. The school bus driver saw A.F. grab T.P.'s jacket and punch him as T.P. was getting off the bus. The two students began fighting. T.P.'s relatives saw the incident, boarded the bus, and tried to stop the fight. Sheriff's deputies were called and arrested T.P. In her testimony, A.F. remembered the incident differently than the bus driver: she said T.P. was the initial aggressor and denied that she had pulled on his jacket.

The appellate court noted that Stand Your Ground law grants broad immunity to persons in any situation in which they are acting lawfully and in a place where they are entitled to be. The Fourth District Court stated, “Although the trial court’s misgivings of applying it to a fight on a school bus may be well taken, it is not the place of the trial court, or this court, to refuse to apply the plain meaning of the statute.” The Fourth District also rejected T.P.’s claims that any sort of battery is covered by the Stand Your Ground law. The Court said that while a person may meet “force with force,” an unwanted touching--which is technically a battery--would not justify force in return. The appellate remanded the case for the trial court to make additional fact findings about the incident.

Although George Zimmerman relied on a standard self-defense argument at his trial the death of 17-year-old Martin, the Stand Your Ground law apparently was on the minds of Zimmerman’s jurors, according to this story in the Miami Herald, and has been at the core of the national conversation about the case.


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