While police officers across the country enjoy total immunity for appropriate use of deadly force, officers in Florida are seeking to use civilian Stand Your Ground laws to get even greater protections.
Former officer Nouman Raja is making the defense in his ongoing case over the 2015 shooting death of Corey Jones. Jones, a musician, was armed with a legally-purchased firearm and held a concealed-carry permit because he regularly traveled home from gigs with large amounts of cash. He was on his way home from an event at 3 a.m. in October 2015 when his car broke down. Raja, dressed in plain clothes, approached the vehicle without identifying himself as a police officer and a confrontation erupted, resulting in Jones’ death, according to the New York Times. Raja claims Jones pointed a weapon at him, but prosecutors say Raja fired on Jones as he fled.
The advantage of a Stand Your Ground defense is that it can prevent the defendant from ever reaching trial. The law mandates a pretrial-hearing before a judge who can dismiss the charges if he deems the use of deadly force “reasonable.” Prosecutors in Raja’s case believe the decision should be made by a jury, rather by a judge at a defacto trial.
Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws made national headlines in 2012 when police cited it for their refusal to arrest George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Raja isn’t the first to attempt to apply to law to police officers. Deputy Peter Peraza and his lawyer, Eric Schwartzreich, made a successful Stand Your Ground defense of a 2013 shooting.
“The law says it applies to ‘any person,’” Schwartzreich told told the Times. “Law enforcement is any person. Why would there be a law that applies to one person in the criminal justice system and not another?”
According to the attorneys prosecuting Raja, the answer is simple: Police officers are not civilians and they have their own separate legal protections. The Florida attorney general’s office filed a motion arguing that officers should not enjoy protections from both laws.
Stand Your Ground laws offer universal protections for anyone who uses deadly force when he or she “reasonably believes it is necessary.” Police, however, enjoy only qualified protections, according to the filing. The AG’s office argues it would be unjust for police to have two routes of defense available to them when average citizens don’t enjoy the same privilege.
Florida police are unique in their attempts to obtain Stand Your Ground protections, despite nearly two dozen states having similar laws.
While Raja’s case has yet to be decided, Peraza’s successful attempt has already been appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, but the justices have yet to announce whether they will take the case.
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