Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Peter Peraza/Photo courtesy of YouTube

 

Florida police officers can use the state’s “stand your ground” law as a defense, the Florida Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

The 2005 statute offers immunity from prosecution if the shooting was an act of self-defense.

The case that prompted this week’s ruling stemmed from the 2013 killing of Jermaine McBean, a 33-year-old computer engineer who was shot by Peter A. Peraza, a Broward County sheriff’s deputy. McBean was carrying an air rifle as he was walking down a street in Oakland Park, a city in Broward County. After 911 callers reported a man walking around with a rifle in broad daylight, Peraza intercepted McBean when, according to Peraza, McBean turned and pointed the air rifle at the deputy.

Peraza shot McBean three times, killing him. Questions have been raised by a witness who said McBean never pointed the gun at Peraza. A photo released in 2015 showed that McBean with headphones in his ears. Some suggest the photo is proof that McBean could not here Peraza’s orders to drop the air rifle.

Peraza was the first Florida law enforcement officer in three decades charged with a crime for an on-duty shooting. He invoked Florida’s “stand your ground” law in his defense. Under the law, there is no duty to retreat when faced with a dire threat, whether actual or perceived.

In 2016, Broward County Judge Michael Usan ruled in favor of Peraza. The state appealed, but the Fourth District Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.

State v. Pereza ended up in front of the Florida Supreme Court because the lower court rulings conflicted with a 2012 case, State v. Caamano, in which the Second District Court of Appeals ruled that police officers could not invoke “stand your ground.”

In Thursday’s unanimous decision, the court put the conflicting rulings to rest.

Justice Alan Lawson, in writing the opinion, said that the law “plainly and unambiguously afford Stand Your Ground immunity to any “person” who acts in self-defense.” It follows, then, that a law enforcement officer falls within the definition of a person, he wrote.

“Put simply, a law enforcement officer is a “person” whether on duty or off, and irrespective of whether the officer is making an arrest,” he wrote. “Based upon the trial court’s findings of fact, Deputy Peraza is entitled to that immunity and is therefore immune from criminal prosecution.”