“Stand your ground” case before Florida high court

Author: Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – A tourist who felt threatened by another driver and aimed his gun at the man shouldn’t have to prove his actions were protected under Florida’s “stand your ground law,” his attorney argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, adding that it should be up to prosecutors to prove the opposite.

Jared Bretherick had the right to defend his family and shouldn’t have been charged because of the state law that says people can use force if they are in danger, said his attorney, Eric Friday.

The 25-year-old Indiana man was given a hearing in which he requested immunity from an assault charge under the “stand your ground” law, but a lower court said no. Now Friday is arguing that Bretherick shouldn’t have even been charged until prosecutors first proved he wasn’t defending himself and the burden shouldn’t have been placed on Bretherick to prove he was.

Some of the justices seemed skeptical of the argument. Justice Barbara Pariente said the 2005 legislation never spelled out a process for pretrial hearings to claim immunity from charges in “stand your ground” cases. It was the court that created the pretrial hearing process in 2010 in response to another “stand your ground” case.

“I’m trying to see, other than sort of pulling it out of the stratosphere, where we come up with that additional burden,” she said.

Friday said the Legislature passed “stand your ground” to give citizens more protection in self-defense cases.

“So why then has this court created a burden that the Legislature never authorized and put the burden on the citizen?” Friday said.

The Avon, Indiana, family was in Kissimmee driving to Walt Disney World in 2011 when the incident happened. The family says Derek Dunning almost ran them off the road and Bretherick’s father Ronald honked the horn. When he did, they said Dunning pulled in front of their pickup truck, jammed on his brakes and trapped them in traffic.

When Dunning got out of his SUV and approached them, Ronald Bretherick displayed his holstered pistol. Jared Bretherick says Dunning told them he also had a gun and returned to his SUV and backed toward them. At that point Jared Bretherick took his father’s gun, left the vehicle and pointed it at Dunning’s SUV. In 911 tapes, Ronald Bretherick repeatedly said his son was prepared to shoot Dunning.

“My son got out to try to get a better aim on him if he jumps out and tries capping at my family,” the elder Bretherick told the operator. “If he comes out with a gun in his hand, my son’s going to drop him.”

No shots were fired, but Jared Bretherick was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm. Dunning didn’t have a gun.

Friday argued the state should have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone wasn’t using self-defense before charging them.

“It would seem to me if that’s the case and that’s your position it would require an entire trial,” said Chief Justice Jorge Labarga. “How can you make that determination … unless you hear all the evidence?”

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Davenport told the justices no other states place the burden on prosecutors to prove someone wasn’t defending themselves before charging them. She also said the pretrial procedure the Supreme Court established hasn’t been questioned until now.

“Nobody’s questioned it. Defendants aren’t complaining about it, the trial judges aren’t complaining about it,” Davenport said. “The Legislature knows what this court does. They’ve had four shots at amending this statute. They’ve never done anything.”

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