Stand Your Ground, Do Felons Still Have That Right?

Bob Smith reasonably fears for his life.  A man yielding a knife, who is significantly larger than Bob, makes Bob believe that at any moment, he could be stabbed and killed.  Bob chooses not to run for it.  He pulls out a gun from his waistband and blows the perpetrator away.  Seems like a clear case of justifiable use of force. This is Florida, after all.  Bob chose to stand his ground.  There’s just one problem.  Bob is a convicted felon and isn’t allowed to legally possess a firearm.  Does he still have the right to obtain immunity under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) law?

Former Florida State Senator Durell Peaden, who sponsored the original Stand Your Ground legislation in 2005, argues that if, as a convicted felon, one lost one’s right to bear arms, then one shouldn’t have the same protections that “law-abiding citizens should have.”  Many here in Florida agree with Peaden. The Florida Supreme Court will soon address this previously unresolved issue.  They’re reviewing a case that stems from Palm Beach County.  In that case, Brian Bragdon, a 25-year-old convicted cocaine dealer, shot two men outside a strip club.  Bragdon argues that he was defending himself.  Prosecutors, however, maintain that he doesn’t have the right to argue Stand Your Ground against the attempted murder charges because he’s a convicted felon, and, thus, should not have been in possession of a gun.  Two Florida appellate courts have ruled differently on this same issue.  It will take the highest court in Florida to resolve this.

Under the Stand Your Ground statute in Florida, a person is not legally required to retreat from someone and may use deadly force if they reasonably fear death or great bodily harm.  Prosecutors point to a portion of the law that eliminates the right of a person to argue SYG if that person was “engaged in an unlawful activity.”  The purpose for that language was, for example, to prevent a burglar from arguing Stand Your Ground after shooting someone while burglarizing their home.  Prosecutors want to use that language in the statute to argue that felons using guns shouldn’t be able to argue SYG as a defense because it’s unlawful for felons to carry gun, and thus, they, like a murdering burglar, were engaged in “unlawful activity.”

The issue is whether that is a fair interpretation of the law.  Additionally, another issue is whether it’s fair to deprive convicted felons of the right that every other citizen has.  I believe that the higher court will give felons the right to argue SYG.  The felon’s background has little to do with the details of the case for which he is charged. It’s important to note that even if the Supreme Court of Florida gives felons like Brian Bragdon the right to argue Stand Your Ground, it doesn’t mean that a judge and/or jury will buy it.  He still faces life in prison if the facts are tantamount to murder as opposed to self defense.