In September, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) proposed an expansion to the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law that would effectively make legal “an on-the-spot death penalty” for vandalism, Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell wrote this week.
His draft legislation — billed as “anti-mob” — said anyone could use “deadly force” if they believed someone was about to commit “criminal mischief that results in the interruption or impairment of a business operation.”
That is, in a word, insane. And I wrote as much in a column posted Tuesday morning on orlandosentinel.com — a column that cited experts baffled by the prospect of greenlighting killing for property crimes and which suggested that politicians who enjoy acting tough on crime might not feel so tough if one of their own children got a little tipsy one night, picked up a can of spray paint and got his or her head blown off for it.
Maxwell noted that just three hours after his column was published, a spokesperson for the governor— who previously had offered no comment — said DeSantis had rethought his position on the issue.
My best guess is the governor was finally faced with the reality of a bad idea he’d never really thought through. He wanted to talk tough about violence and vandalism associated with Black Lives Matter protests in other parts of the country, but didn’t really think about how his idea for on-the-spot executions might actually play out.
“The only other conclusion,” Maxwell wrote, “is that the governor of America’s third-largest state genuinely wanted a criminal justice system similar to Iran or North Korea, where the government thinks people deserve to die for property crimes.”
And make no mistake: That’s what DeSantis proposed.
I ran his proposal by a panel of experts consisting of a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney and law professor. All three — including Seminole-Brevard State Attorney Phil Archer — said DeSantis’ proposed law would seem to give Floridians a license to kill in a case like the Miami grilled-cheese shop.
What was the grilled-cheese shop incident? Maxwell explained:
Last weekend, a group of young adults — angry about being asked to wear face masks before entering a grilled-cheese shop in Miami — reportedly vandalized the restaurant, breaking a water line that forced the eatery to temporarily shut down.
The legal experts Maxwell spoke with agreed unanimously that DeSantis’ proposal was absurd and wrong.
Attorney Mark O’Mara — well versed in the state’s self-defense laws as the former lawyer for George Zimmerman — said the idea was “an extreme over-reaction” that was both disturbing and unprecedented.
“Life is supposed to be held in the highest regard in this country,” he said. “I know of no instance where we would allow deadly force to protect property or even a business interest.”
O’Mara called it a wicked departure from existing self-defense statutes that say you can only use deadly force to protect yourself or someone else from imminent and serious physical danger. “It’s an absurd extension of the law that is borderline unconstitutional,” he said. “And I may well take out the word ‘borderline.’”
Scott Sundby, a law professor at the University of Miami who has studied Stand Your Ground, told Maxwell that his reading of the proposed law would even justify killings over graffiti.
And not only did DeSantis’ legislation allow for killing without any pretext of self-defense, it permitted killing without a crime even taking place. The proposal said a killer must only “believe” someone is about to commit “criminal mischief” that might disrupt a business. (And not even their own business.)
He suggested that DeSantis may have reconsidered after mulling over the law’s effect on people other than Black Lives Matter protesters, perhaps even his own children or those of his Republican colleagues.
That’s sometimes the only way politicians can appreciate the impact of their bad ideas … when they contemplate how it might affect them.
Maybe that’s part of what prompted DeSantis’ change of heart … though I still want to see him publicly refute his own idea and explain why it was so dangerously wrong before we’ll know it’s totally off the table. He sure didn’t publicly refute the idea when Hannity and Fox News were touting it a few weeks ago.