A Look Back on the Movie Theater Shooting Case and the Details of the Florida Statute that Helped the Defendant Secure an Acquittal

By now, the story of the retired police captain who shot and killed a fellow movie-goer in Pasco County has become extremely well-known, especially here in Florida. We can all debate what each man could and/or should have done differently, but this isn’t about that. Instead, this post is to focus on some legal aspects of the case that were less well-known and the lessons one can draw from this case, starting with the value of having the right Tampa Bay criminal defense lawyer on your side when you’re facing major felony charges.

To recap, Curtis Reeves, a retired police captain, was attending a matinee movie with his wife when he became frustrated with a nearby man who was texting. The captain spoke out, an argument ensued, then the other man threw Reeves’ popcorn at him. Shortly thereafter, Reeves drew his gun and shot, fatally wounding the man.

The prosecution argued that Reeves was insulted by the popcorn-throwing and shot in a fit of rage. The defense argued that Reeves shot in self-defense.

Many legal analysts, including Florida criminal defense attorneys, did not like the retired policeman’s chances. If the prosecution successfully painted the shooting as a response to the other man’s general obnoxiousness or Reeves’ irritation at being disrespected, then the shooting would not have been a justified use of deadly force.

Fortunately for Reeves, his defense lawyers saw other things that made his case not as bleak as those analysts thought.

Fear of Death or Imminent Death or ‘Great Bodily Harm’ is Enough…

This is where the fine details of the Florida Statutes come into play… and helped the defense. The “use of force” statute is Section 776.012 of the Florida Statutes. That statute provides a justification defense for the use of deadly force if the accused “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.”

So, if you reasonably believe that someone is imminently threatening to kill you or someone else, you can deploy deadly force under the statute. If you reasonably believe that someone poses an imminent threat of great bodily harm to you or someone else, you can use deadly force. “Great bodily harm” means more than a “simple” battery. A simple battery might inflict things like bruises or scrapes. Great bodily harm includes things like broken bones, an injury that causes major swelling, an injury that requires surgery, or an injury that causes profuse bleeding (and possibly requires numerous stitches.)

Reeves seemed to provide testimony that he feared he was about to suffer great bodily harm. He said on the witness stand that he “thought the guy was going to beat the hell out of me,” and that “I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody get in my face like that and it scared the crap out of me.”

… But a Simply Battery May Be As Well if the Victim Was a Senior

However, even if the jury didn’t believe that the defendant reasonably believed he faced an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm, they still could vote to acquit. That’s because of the final element of the statute, which says that you can deploy deadly force “to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”

Normally, a simple battery is a misdemeanor and, as noted above, isn’t a legitimate basis for deploying deadly force. However, under Florida law, a simple battery can be a felony if the victim was age 65 or older. Reeves’ lawyers used that part of the statute (and the fact that the defendant was 71 at the time of the incident) in Reeves’ favor, explicitly asserting that the other man committed “a number of assault and battery crimes against a person 65 years or older.” In other words, they were arguing that the younger man’s conduct amounted to a “forcible felony” and made Reeves’ use of deadly force justified.

Whether or not one thinks that a person should be entitled to deploy deadly force simply because they believe someone is imminently intending to commit a battery on a senior citizen isn’t the point. The point is that that is the law and Reeves’ legal team did a strong job explaining all the components and ramifications of the statute in a way that made the acquittal possible.

Mounting a criminal defense is often far more complicated and involves many more legal intricacies than one sees on the news or courtroom-focused TV shows. When it comes time to secure a legal defense that is intelligent, powerful, and thorough, contact the Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation. The sooner you retain us, the sooner we can begin developing a winning defense strategy for you.

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