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Stand Your Ground!

Barbara Thomas, Howard Finkelstein and Dione Trawick

Stand Your Ground!

Barbara Thomas, Howard Finkelstein of “Help Me Howard” and Dione Trawick.

By Marie Carrie

These three words pack a big wallop! On Thursday, April 11, 2013, the Chi Psi chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. hosted a political forum at the Urban League of Broward County to address this hot topic issue along with the issue of gun reform. The goal of the forum was to bring together various attorneys, law enforcement agencies and citizens to discuss the impact and relevancy of these two issues at the forefront of political debate.

Howard Finkelstein, elected Broward Public Defender, was the moderator for the political forum.

The panel included: Terrance Moons, Jr. (Esq.); Valerie Small-Williams (Esq.); Clement R. Dean, Jr. (P.A.); Jason Blank (Esq.); Colonel Al Pollack (Broward County Sherriff’s Office); Kathleen Phang-Feldman (Esq.); Woody R. Clermont (Esq.); Darryl Parks (Esq.); and H. Dohn Williams (Esq.).

The forum was organized into two parts. The first part began with a discussion of the 2nd Amendment Constitutional Right to bear arms. Moderator Finkelstein posed the question, “Is the right to bear arms an absolute right?” Meaning, should it be regulated or does this right unquestionably and without restriction apply to every citizen. Attorney Valerie Small-Williams stated that some people should not have a gun, for example mental health patients. She believes in the 2nd Amendment but with limitations.

Attorney Terrance Moon on the other hand does not believe there should be any gun control.  He stated, “When they take your guns away be weary of the government.” While both sides of the raging debate on gun regulation were represented at the forum, Broward County residents will be particularly interested in that of the Broward County Sherriff’s Office (BSO).

Colonel Pollack, a 37-year veteran of law enforcement, laid out the BSO position on gun regulation in our county. It is not the position of BSO that all guns should be taken off the streets, rather that ALL guns should be registered.

According to Pollack, “You can walk in any neighborhood and get a gun and there is no accountability for it. We got to regulate guns like we regulate cars. We want responsible people to have guns.”

In this fashion, he agreed with attorney Small-Williams that we should question when certain individuals are allowed to maintain and have access to firearms.

Regardless of where panelists and participants fell on the issue of gun control, the question we must all ask, including lawmakers, is: How much are we willing to lose to keep our constitutional right to bear arms?

The second part of the forum focused on Florida Statute 776.013, commonly referred to as “Stand your ground”. This legislation was first enacted in 2005, under Governor Jeb Bush. The premise of the law states that force may be used in self-defense against an unlawful threat, without the obligation to retreat first.

According to panelist Dohn Williams, Esq., there are two notable exceptions to the application of this law. First, a convicted felon cannot evoke “stand your ground” as a defense. And secondly you cannot use this defense if you are involved in illegal activity.

This Florida Statute was recently brought to the national spotlight when George Zimmerman considered using it as his defense for the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin, a 14 year old unarmed high school student.

The public became outraged at this possible defense and the laws inherent flaws were ex-posed.

“Stand your ground takes the decision of guilt or innocence out of the jury’s hands and places it solely in the judge’s and the evidentiary standard is much lower.” said panelist Kathleen Phang-Feldman, Esq.

To further complicate matters, Phang goes on to state how if the judge finds in favor of the defendant the case is dismissed, but if the judge finds against the defendant, she/he can still go to trial.

The statements made in the “stand your ground” hearing can be submitted and used against the defendant at trial. According to the panelists, this possibly illuminates the reasoning behind George Zimmerman’s ultimate decision to refuse a “stand your ground” hearing in favor of a jury trial.

Daryl Parks, the lawyer representing the Trayvon Martin family, stated, “Once you take the stand, you open the door. So an attorney should think carefully before advising a client to have a stand your ground hearing.”

Clearly the attorneys representing Mr. Zimmerman were aware of the inherent flaws in the legislation and opted to seek traditional legal recourse. While the spirit of the stand your ground law was intended to extend legal protection to those lawfully acting in self defense, all the panelists agreed that the practical application of it is lacking.

At the end of the evening citizens left the political forum better educated and equipped to engage in the continued national dialogue surrounding these two current and relevant issues.

Moderator Howard Finkelstein said, “The people that take the time {to become educated} make the decisions.”


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