Court rejects 'Stand Your Ground' defense in Florida shooting death appeal

A lower court had refused to dismiss a manslaughter charge against the defendant.

The 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

The 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Michael Rivera, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

A sharply divided appeals court Monday rejected an Alachua County man’s self-defense arguments after he fatally shot his fiancee’s 24-year-old son during an altercation in 2019.

James Dwight Edwards contended that he was immune from prosecution under the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law. But after an evidentiary hearing, a circuit judge refused to dismiss a manslaughter charge, leading attorneys for Edwards to take the issue to the 1st District Court of Appeal.

The altercation happened after the fiancee’s son, identified in media reports as Jacob Ryan Knight, took Edwards’ car and got into an accident. After they scuffled on a porch, the men fought in a bedroom, where Edwards shot Knight, according to Monday’s ruling.

Edwards argued that the charge should be dismissed, in part because he said the circuit judge improperly shifted a burden of proof from prosecutors to him to show that the shooting was in self-defense.

Also, he contended that prosecutors did not prove by “clear and convincing evidence that he did not have an objectively reasonable belief that he was in imminent danger of great bodily harm or death when he shot” Knight, according to the ruling.

But a panel of the appeals court, in a 2-1 decision, rejected the arguments.

“Based on the testimony and evidence presented at the pretrial hearing, we hold that there is competent, substantial evidence to support the trial court’s factual findings and credibility determinations,” wrote Chief Judge Lori Rowe, who was joined by Judge Timothy Osterhaus. “And from that competent, substantial evidence, we hold that the state met its burden to overcome Edwards’ immunity claim by clear and convincing evidence.”

But Judge Brad Thomas wrote a lengthy dissent, saying Edwards “did not have a duty to retreat” during the altercation.

“Here, there is no question that the decedent (Knight) was repeatedly punching petitioner (Edwards) in the head when decedent was shot at point-blank range,” Thomas wrote. “Petitioner was entitled to use deadly force to defend himself, not just from the ‘imminent’ danger of great bodily harm, but the actual infliction of such harm.”

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