Joe Henderson: What’s reasonable? ‘Stand your ground’ trial may provide answer

stand your ground self defense

It’s not surprising that Pinellas County prosecutors decided not to buy the “stand your ground” argument and charged Michael Drejka with manslaughter Monday in the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton after an argument over a parking space.

This story had gotten much publicity, most of it negative, after Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri initially declined to arrest Drejka because he said the shooting was protected under Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Politics being what they are, something had to give.

I wrote then that I agreed with Gualtieri’s interpretation, and I believe prosecutors will have a hard time making their case that Drejka didn’t feel threatened when he fired the fatal shot.

Proving that the world was turning upside, that earned me a rebuke from Florida’s Mama Gun herself, Marion Hammer. In a comment under that column, she asked if I had actually read the law – implying that it didn’t say what Gualtieri and I believed it did. 

I had read it, by the way.

But I read it again, and here’s the part of that law that will really on trial when Drejka faces a jury of his peers.

Under the heading “justifiable use of force,” it says deadly force is permissible if a person “reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”

But state Sen. Dennis Baxley, a long-time champion of gun rights and the NRA, told Politico, the law uses a “reasonable-person standard. It’s not that you were just afraid.”

I imagine Drejka’s attorney will have a different take.

Video of the shooting shows McGlockton pushing Drejka violently to the ground during the argument. McGlockton takes a couple of steps back after Drejka aims a gun at him, but it was too late. He was shot in the chest and died.

Mind you, I’m not excusing the actions of either man in that confrontation.

McGlockton’s shove turned an argument into an out-of-control situation.

Drejka sent it over the edge when he pulled a gun.

It wasn’t the first time he had been involved in a dangerous confrontation either. The Tampa Bay Times reported that he had four road rage incidents since 2012 and had pulled a gun at least twice.

But in this case, Baxley’s “reasonable-person standard” will be open to interpretation. Who’s to say what is “reasonable” when you’ve been shoved to the ground with as much violence as Drejka was?

That’s what opponents to this part of the bill warned about. Gualtieri had called the interpretation “subjective” – which is the problem.

A “reasonable person” might conclude Drejka was scared out of his wits. And the twist to SYG now is that prosecutors will have to prove that wasn’t true, no matter what the video shows or seems to show. That is exactly what backers of that law had in mind when they pushed it through the Legislature in 2017.

One of the most ardent supporters of that bill?

Dennis Baxley.

He said on the Senate floor during deliberations, “I think of all the people who will be saved because we did this right and put the burden of proof where it belongs.”

A “reasonable person” might disagree.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


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