By Paul Flemming
The News-Press Tallahassee Bureau
Published by news-press.com on January 28, 2005
TALLAHASSEE — State Sen. Durell Peaden wants to make sure people have a right to use deadly force to shoot home intruders without fear of prosecution.
"We're talking about what most folks in my part of the world consider protecting their own," said Peaden, R-Crestview, of his proposed legislation.
As Florida's law now reads, people who use deadly force against someone in their home must be responding to a threat of death or great bodily harm.
Peaden's bill would make any intruder on someone's property — or a home they're visiting, their RV, car or tent — a threat that by definition justifies using deadly force.
The legislation has got the bill's author, the National Rifle Association, facing off against lobbyists for prosecutors, police and sheriffs.
The senator cites an Escambia County case in the wake of Hurricane Ivan as an example of the need for change.
In November, 77-year-old James Workman shot and killed a man that entered the trailer where he and his wife were living next to their storm-damaged home.
On Wednesday, Assistant State Attorney David Rimmer concluded that no charges should be brought, stating: "Mr. Workman clearly had the lawful right to protect his property, his wife and himself from an intruder. Furthermore, the fact that Mr. Workman fired a shot in the ground demonstrates his caution and restraint."
The NRA wants to head off even the consideration of prosecuting people such as Workman.
"When someone breaks into your home in the middle of the night, you don't know why he's there," said Marion Hammer, an NRA lobbyist.
"You don't have time to say, 'Hey Mr. Criminal, are you here to rape me and kill me or are you just here to beat me and steal my jewelry?"'
Prosecutors and police officers say it's a solution to a problem that doesn't exist — that there is no case of someone being prosecuted for use of deadly force when they were protecting their home.
"Anecdotally, nobody in our association has been able to come up with a situation where this is a problem," said Bill Cervone, a Gainesville state attorney who's leading the efforts of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association. "I don't know if it's wise to legislate against something that's a possibility."
Prosecutors, sheriff's and police association objections were enough to delay the first hearing of the bill in a Senate committee this week as lobbyists on both sides try to work out their differences.
An identical bill is filed in the House, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.
The Florida Sheriffs Association is also concerned about unintended consequences.
"If you read (the bill), if you had a little boy or little girl out playing in the yard and they hit a ball into my yard ... the presumption is in there that he's over there to do harm to me. The other presumption is that I can just go ahead and shoot the kid for fear of my life," said Frank Messersmith, lobbyist for the sheriffs' group.