Stand Your Ground Trial
From the Defense Table: Celebrating the Achievements of NYSACDL Members in the Courts – Eric Franz
Member Eric Franz recently traveled to West Palm Beach, Florida and won an acquittal for his client who was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm and discharge of a weapon, despite the fact that the entire incident was captured on video surveillance. His client was facing a mandatory minimum of 20 years imprisonment. Despite the circumstances described below, it was no defense under Florida law that the weapon fired accidentally.
Following a verbal dispute with a bar patron who threw a glass at the defendant (which missed striking him), the defendant, the manager of the bar, left the premises and returned with a firearm. Upon his return, the defendant pointed his weapon at the patron who was now outside of the bar and then pursued the patron outside where a struggle ensued. During the struggle, the gun discharged and the patron suffered a gunshot graze wound to the head. In addition to the video surveillance footage and the testimony of the complainant, Franz also had to combat the fact that his client had made numerous recorded statements to the police which were disputed by the evidence— including that the video surveillance system was inoperable, that he never left to retrieve his firearm, and that he never displayed the firearm while still inside the bar when the complainant was already outside.
Franz’s attempt to have the case dismissed, following a “stand your ground” hearing in Florida, was unsuccessful, since there was no dispute that his client did not “stand his ground”. Video footage clearly showed that the defendant left and then returned, with firearm in hand and proceeded to point the firearm at the complainant, even though the complainant had already walked out of the bar. Franz proceeded to trial on the theory that the defendant was faced with a startling, horrifying event (having a glass hurled at his head by the complainant) and had to make a split second decision of whether he should seek safety for himself, or selflessly consider the safety of the remaining patrons who remained inside the bar — where no security personnel were employed. Franz told the jury that once the complainant threw the glass at his client that his client had every reason to be concerned about what actions the complainant might take next. He argued that his client was justified in his actions returning to the bar with a weapon in order to remove the complainant from the premises and to protect his patrons and a female bartender (the ex-girlfriend of the complainant) from whatever the complainant might do next. With regard to the claim by the State that the complainant had retreated by leaving the bar — Franz countered that the complainant may have left, but he was not really “gone” — since he remained in the outside dining area of the bar.
The case was fought in court for over two years, and despite being denied his motion to dismiss based on Florida’s “stand your ground” law, Franz was ultimately successful in convincing the Florida jury that his client’s actions were a justified use of deadly force.
Volume 29 Number 1
New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers