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The Stand Your Ground Case That Wasn’t


Today, Reuters is featuring a piece from about three previous Stand Your Ground cases. It is clearly intended to illustrate how terrible the law is. Here’s the article’s summary of an incident that took place right in Sanford, Fla., the location of the Trayvon Martin shooting:

[Travares] McGill, 16, was sitting in a car at an apartment complex when someone shined a bright light into the vehicle. It turned out to be two security guards, who did not identify themselves, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

McGill tried to back out and get away. The guards — Bryan Ansley, 28, and William Patrick Swofford, 26 — opened fire, shooting McGill in the back and killing him.

Ansley and Swofford claimed self-defense, saying they feared McGill was trying to run them over. A grand jury indicted both guards, but the case was ultimately dismissed.

The problem? First, this was apparently a basic self-defense case, not a Stand Your Ground case. The incident took place in July of 2005, and the Stand Your Ground law didn’t take effect until October 1 of that year. Though the Florida Supreme Court did not definitively resolve the issue until after this case had concluded — prosecutors dropped charges against Ansley, and a judge dismissed the case against Swofford for lack of evidence, in early 2007 — Stand Your Ground is not retroactive in Florida. This is because the Florida constitution states: “Repeal or amendment of a criminal statute shall not affect prosecution or punishment for any crime previously committed.”

A state appeals court, albeit not in Sanford’s circuit, had already ruled this way by the time Ansley and Swofford were let go. A Nexis search reveals that not a single contemporary news account of the case mentioned Stand Your Ground as a factor. It’s not clear that Stand Your Ground would have mattered even if it were available; what the statute does is eliminate the “duty to retreat,” and if the guards’ story is true, they did not have the time to retreat safely anyhow.

[Update: Attorney Robert F. Fisher, who represented Bryan Ansley in the case, has confirmed to me that Stand Your Ground was not an issue.]

Further, the summary provided is not quite accurate. What actually happened is that when the guards shined a light into his car, McGill abruptly backed his car up, scraping two vehicles (including the guards’) and slamming one of his passengers (who’d stepped out of the car) into a van, breaking his leg. Then, as a guard drew his weapon, McGill switched into drive and hit the gas. The car first went sideways; then it went forward, at the guards; then it veered away from them, missing one of them by a foot and a half.

The guards continued firing after the car missed them, and the driver was shot in the back, but the judge concluded this wasn’t enough evidence to move forward with charges. The entire incident was over in less than 30 seconds, the key moments took less than three seconds to unfold, and McGill was indisputably driving in a dangerous manner. You can make a case that the judge made the wrong decision — that the case against Swofford should have been put before a jury — but Stand Your Ground had nothing to do with it.


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