A St. Petersburg Man Who Killed His Roommate Gets a New Chance to Assert His ‘Stand Your Ground’ Defense

One of the most well-known elements of Florida criminal law and procedure, at least among lay people, is this state’s “Stand Your Ground” law. This law can provide an important tool in the defense arsenal of a person accused of a violent crime who was, in fact, simply defending him/herself. Whether your criminal defense case involves an assertion of self-defense, other affirmative defenses or different trial strategies, your criminal case is too important to take chances with. Be sure you are getting the best defense possible by retaining an experienced Saint Petersburg criminal defense attorney.

While many “Stand Your Ground” cases that make news headlines involve guns, W.J.’s case was a bit different. W.J. was a St. Petersburg man who had a difficult relationship with his roommate. The two fought, but it was hardly the sort of lighthearted roommate squabbles one might see on a classic episode of The Odd Couple. This pair’s battles allegedly involved the roommate brandishing a baseball bat and threatening to kill W.J.

W.J. kept a knife on his bedside table because of his fear related to the roommate’s behavior. On the day of the roommate’s death, W.J. alleged that he awoke in his bedroom to find the roommate’s hand in his pants pocket, which was where W.J. kept his cash. A physical struggle ensued, which traveled from the bedroom to the living room to the backyard. In the backyard, W.J. finally gained control of the knife and stabbed the roommate, killing him.

The state prosecuted W.J. for second-degree murder. In a timely manner, the accused man asked the court to dismiss the case based upon Stand Your Ground immunity. In his motion, W.J. asserted that he firmly believed that, if he had not stabbed the roommate, the roommate would have killed him.

The trial court refused to dismiss, ruling in favor of the prosecution. The appeals court, however, concluded that the ruling must be reversed because the trial court didn’t follow the proper procedure. The trial court had, in ruling for the prosecution, concluded that the law required W.J. to demonstrate that he was entitled to Stand Your Ground immunity by presenting physical proof or live testimony and that he was obliged to do so before the state was required to prove anything.

This wasn’t the way Stand Your Ground procedure works, the appeals court ruled. The statute, as written, merely requires that a defendant “allege a facially sufficient prima facie claim of justifiable use of force” under the Stand Your Ground law and “present argument in support of that motion at a pretrial immunity hearing.”

In other words, a criminal defendant who desires to assert Stand Your Ground immunity must raise that defense in a proper motion to dismiss. W.J. did that in his case. Once that happens, the trial judge is then required to look at the defense’s assertions and, assuming all facts to be true, decide if the defendant’s allegations make out the element of self-defense under the statute, (which the court in W.J.’s case did not do). If all the elements are there, then the law requires the prosecution to defeat the self-defense claim through the presentation of “clear and convincing” evidence.

Because the defendant did what the law required of him, but the court did not perform the required analysis, the case was returned to the trial court for further consideration of W.J.’s claim of Stand Your Ground immunity.

Whatever defenses your case demands, you need skillful counsel representing you. The Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten, P.A. have been helping accused people for many years as they seek justice. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation and get the information you need.

More blog posts:

Manatee County Murder Suspect Gets a New Trial Because Police Interviewed Him Without His Lawyer Present, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, March 15, 2018

Battery or self defense? Pinellas Park mother accused of child abuse against daughter, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, March 13, 2014

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