Michael Drejka, who drew national headlines last month when he shot another man in a Florida parking lot, has been charged by the state’s Attorney General with voluntary manslaughter. This is a reversal of the local PD who abstained from filing charges against Drejka.
The altercation occurred in a parking lot after he and Markeis McGlockton got into a shouting match over a parking spot. McGlockton shoved Drejka to the ground. Drejka responded by pulling out his pistol and fatally shooting McGlockton. The fallout from the unwillingness to file charges against Drejka was played out in the media. While stand your ground laws on the surface appear to make sense, they’ve opened the door to this kind of controversy.
Understanding Stand Your Ground Laws
Stand your ground is not so much a law as it is a defense. In many states, if you feel as though you’re life is being threatened, you can take lethal action but you must show that you exhausted all other possibilities. In other words, you have a duty to retreat. Stand your ground is an affirmative defense based on a law that you do not have a duty to retreat. You can, as it were, stand your ground.
While many believe this makes more sense than a duty to retreat mandate, Florida takes it one step further. If a defendant wants to raise stand your ground as an affirmative defense, meaning they’re saying that they did it, but it wasn’t a crime, it becomes the prosecution’s job to prove that stand your ground doesn’t apply to their situation. In actual fact, that puts the prosecution in an extremely difficult position and gives defendants an almost unbeatable alibi.
That is what scared off police from charging Drejka in the shooting of McGlockton and sets a remarkable precedent for cowboy outbursts in the streets.
Then Why Was Drejka Charged?
According to the attorney general, Drejka was not in “reasonable fear for his life” when he pulled the trigger. He had been pushed to the ground, but McGlockton showed no signs that he was attempting to kill Drejka. Thus, Drejka has been charged with voluntary manslaughter, also known as a “murder of passion”. This charge alleges that the defendant was so enraged at the time of the murder, that he killed the other person without thinking first. It fits. But will it survive a stand your ground defense?
A Bad Law is Still the Law
Whether or not this case survives a grand jury or goes to trial, the law says that if you believe that your life is threatened by another person, you can use lethal force. The prosecutor, in this case, has the burden of proving the Drejka did not believe that his life was in danger. Despite pressure from the Florida AG and with the media watching closely, how can the prosecutor prove beyond a reasonable doubt what Drejka believed?