Another controversial shooting incident in Indian River County, Florida has intensified the debate over some states’ laws regarding the right to self defense. These controversial statutes, known as stand-your-ground laws, have been dominating the media in recent years, especially since the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin at the hands of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February 2012. Zimmerman was later acquitted at trial.
Last November, an unarmed 38-year-old man, Preston Ruiz, was shot and killed during a bout of road rage with another driver at a traffic light. According to investigators, Ruiz was driving erratically, which prompted the other driver, 29-year-old Travis Sparks, to roll down his window and voice his concern with Ruiz’s driving.
Sparks told investigators that at this point Ruiz began threatening him, so he rolled up his vehicle’s windows and locked the doors. Then, Sparks claimed, Ruiz threatened to shoot him and reached into the back seat of his vehicle. When Ruiz raised his arm, Sparks opened fire on Ruiz’s vehicle and killed him.
Assistant State Attorney Steve Gosnell declined to press charges against Sparks. Gosnell’s decision was based solely on his legal expertise; he knew that an experienced Indian River County criminal defense attorney would cite the state’s stand-your-ground law, and the presiding judge would likely dismiss the case.
Whereas most states’ self-defense laws require potential victims of violence to flee if they have a surefire way of doing so, states with stand-your-ground laws allow citizens to use deadly force against their assailants if they feel their lives are in danger. This applies even if the threat is merely perceived and even if the victims have a viable means of escape, which is why the facts that Ruiz was not actually in possession of a firearm and that Sparks could have easily fled the scene were irrelevant from a legal perspective.
What distinguishes the Sparks case from that of Zimmerman is that although Sparks was never charged, Zimmerman was arrested, charged, tried and found not guilty. Remember that these incidents took place in the same state, and the same stand-your-ground policy applied. Realistically, then, if Florida citizens exercise their right to self defense in accordance with the state’s stand-your-ground legislation, there is still a good chance they will be arrested and formally charged.
Indian River Homicide Attorney Jeffrey H. Garland
For this reason, anyone involved in a stand-your-ground incident in Indian River County should not even wait for formal charges to be filed before consulting an experienced Indian River County criminal defense attorney. This is because stand-your-ground legislation is ambiguously written and thus interpreted differently by different judges, attorneys and juries.
Criminal lawyer Jeffrey Garland knows all too well how ambiguous and subjective the law can be; Garland has been practicing law in Florida for more than 30 years and has achieved numerous acquittals for his clients at trial. If you or someone you know has been involved in a similar incident in Indian River County, you should contact the Law Office of Jeffrey H. Garland, P. A. today at (772) 489-2200.