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Self defense case investigated by local authorit

May 31, 2011

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Local law enforcement authorities continue to probe into the highly publicized case regarding a local juvenile who armed himself with a shotgun and shot an intruder committing a theft on his property. The unfortunate event has cost a life, and thrown a 14-year-old into the middle of a legal tussle. It began May 20, in the upscale Miami Shores community, and could prove a test of Florida's pioneering 2005 "Stand your Ground" and "Castle Doctine" statutes which allow for the justified use of lethal force in self-defense situations, and extended civil protections to a person who used such force. Local Miami criminal defense attorneys from all over the county have been quick to throw their opinion into the mix.

According to press accounts, Reynaldo Muņoz, 20, and Carolina Lopez, 19, tried to steal a WaveRunner from the waterfront home of Jeffrey Davis, who was not home at the time of the incident. Muņoz and Lopez parked a truck at Pelican Harbor Marina, and rode a jetski to the Davis home. Muņoz entered the Davis property, and began lowering the WaveRunner into the water. Lopez headed back to the marina where she would help load the stolen craft into the truck and take it a buyer for $2,000. Muņoz, however, was confronted by Davis' 14-year-old son who had a shotgun. According to the boy and his mother, Muņoz threatened them. The teenager responded by fatally shooting Muņoz. According to Muņoz family members, Reynaldo was deaf mute and could not have threatened the teenager, at least not verbally. The only criminal charges filed so far have been against Lopez for second degree murder.

This case could become a test with national implications for the no-nonsense approach many states have taken regarding home intrusions, and self-defense. Florida 776.013 protects persons who come under attack, providing them strong criminal and civil protections. It states that, "...A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself...A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person's dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence..."
The question most are pining over is whether a seawall is to be considered part of a dwelling or the "Stand Your Ground" law applies. Florida case law has long held that a defendant can commit a burglary without entering the residence. A dwelling burglary will be charged even if a person merely enters the yard if the home is surrounded by a hedge or a fence. A seawall is not a hedge or a fence. It may be considered a barrier, but is more likely to be construed a property line. If it is considered a property line and the state attorney's office holds the same opinion, the "Castle Doctine" will not apply.

The state attorney's office will then have to consider if the "Stand Your Ground" law is applicable in the this case. The validity of this defense will depend on the actions of both Munoz and the 14 year-old. The applicability of the relatively new law will turn on the actions of the deceased prior to the shooting and any witness accounts of the same. Florida has particularly strong protections for a homeowner's use of self-defense which amounts to deadly force. In most instances homeowners have no duty to retreat in the face of an intruder and, should they invoke a valid castle law defense, are immune from civil suits. The case will raise difficult questions regarding Muņoz' capacity to articulate a viable threat, and whether or not the jet ski was within the curtilage of Davis' home.

Police Probe: Teen Shot Intruder in the Head, Miami, May 23, 2011.

Categories: Self-Defense
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