Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Unintended Consequences, Again

So now here in Florida we have a dead black kid, killed by a neighborhood captain of crime watch white guy that has 911 on speed dial, and has the community - the country - in a rage over the fact that our "Stand your Ground" law caused the cops to decline an arrest.

Stand Your Ground was passed by the Florida Legislature in an effort send a message that not only should guns be allowed everywhere, but that people should be allow to use them - to kill people - anywhere. The NRA supported it, NRA (and their money) loving legislators supported it, and the Governor signed it. Yeah, we all heard the testimony that it may cause otherwise minor altercations to turn into a phone call to the local funeral home, but that's what we call "unintended consequences," and hell, it's just part of the parade of horribles that liberal gun-rights-hating folks whine about.

I mean, are we really to think that some over-zealous neighborhood crime watch captain is going to blow away some kid who has a bag of Skittles and an Iced Tea in his hand and claim self-defense? C'mon.

But now we're going to have hearings. We're going to amend the law. We've got the feds and state law enforcement department investigating the non-arrest, while the local state attorney prepares the case for a grand jury.

The community does not believe this death, this claim of self defense was an intended consequence of Stand Your Ground.

Unintended consequences of criminal legislation usually get the short shrift during the legislative session. Laws, brought to legislators by prosecutors, victims advocates group, or as a result of a tragic death of a child, need to be passed. That the wrong people will go to jail or not go to jail, is something that local prosecutors and judges (if given discretion) can deal with.

Legislators normally respond to scenarios of unintended consequences with "no prosecutor would file that case," or "we trust the police to make judgment calls."

Well, the police made a judgment call in this case.

Was it the right one?

Appears the community's answer is a collective "hell no."

Death always generates emotion. The death of a child is always described as "the worst." When the death of a child is tied to a crime, there is always legislation.

And the Stand Your Ground law will be amended. Next session, bet on it.

But what about other laws that have unintended consequences? How many cases have we heard about where minor drug offenders are in prison under archaic minimim mandatory sentencing schemes? What did legislators say when these unintended consequences were presented?

Nothing.

What about where those that aren't sexual offenders (in the literal sense) or sexual predators (in the literal sense) are tagged as such?

Every year advocates go to the legislature and seek modification of these laws - these criminal laws that snag those who were not intended to be "victims" of these tough-on-crime statutes.

But the cries mostly fall on deaf ears. Only death brings about change. The old adage "does someone have to die," holds true in the world of criminal legislation.

In the years I've spent watching the Florida Legislature, it's been made clear that of the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights, the one is most sacred isn't 4, or 5 or 6, or 8, but 2.

And now we have a problem. We have a law - a gift to gun rights advocates and those "sick of crime" everywhere. And we have a dead kid, a kid that is viewed as having done nothing wrong. He's dead. His killer claimed self-defense. The discretion given to law enforcement was used - but used in a manner that received disapproval.

Unintended consequences of criminal legislation imprison people every day, take away their livelihoods, their families, and their futures.

But when these unintended consequences result in death, those that were too busy to listen before, now cry for justice.

Equal Justice means that equal attention to those who are victims of unintended consequences is required - whether they are convicted, imprisoned, or dead.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter