Florida Keys

New 'Stand Your Ground' ruling could reinstate conviction of a Key West shooter

Derek David of Louisiana is captured on security video brandishing a gun on Charles Street on March 21, 2016, and firing toward people on Duval Street. He says he was defending himself and his wife from strangers who started fighting them.
Derek David of Louisiana is captured on security video brandishing a gun on Charles Street on March 21, 2016, and firing toward people on Duval Street. He says he was defending himself and his wife from strangers who started fighting them.

A Louisiana man who'd been given a reprieve from his conviction for attempted manslaughter so that he could use Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law is now back facing sentencing.

Last week a Monroe County judge set aside Derek David's conviction on three attempted-manslaughter charges because of one appellate court's decision on the self-defense law. But a different court's ruling on Friday puts the Louisiana man's conviction back in play, prosecutors say.

David, 35, was found guilty March 1 of shooting three men he didn't know in Key West in 2016. David said he fired his gun to protect himself and his wife moments after he was beaten up by two men on Charles Street. Security camera footage viewed by jurors during David's trial in February appears to show the men were initially breaking up a shoving match between David and his wife, Jodie David.

David's attorneys argued unsuccessfully in February 2017 that the incident met the criteria for Stand Your Ground, which allows a person to use deadly force and not retreat if he or she feels there is an imminent threat. Monroe County Judge Wayne Miller said David's case did not fit the criteria, and a Third District Court of Appeal panel concurred later in the year.

But on May 4, the Second District Court of Appeal ruled that a significant amendment to the law written by state lawmakers and enacted last summer is retroactive and affects all Stand Your Ground cases. The amendment made a switch, requiring prosecutors to disprove self-defense, rather than the defense having to prove it.

David was scheduled to be sentenced Monday, but Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia said the appellate court ruling left him no choice but to vacate the conviction and grant a new Stand Your Ground hearing. David posted his $240,000 bond and was released from Monroe County jail, where he'd been since his March 1 conviction.

Then on Friday, the Third District Court of Appeal, presiding over a Miami-Dade County case, ruled that the revision made by the Legislature is constitutional, but applies only to Stand Your Ground cases that were pending after the amendment took effect in June 2017. The Third District has jurisdiction over South Florida, including the Florida Keys.

In the Miami-Dade case, Tashara Love was charged with attempted second-degree murder after shooting a man outside a Miami nightclub in 2015. She said she shot Thomas Lane because he was about to strike her daughter. A judge denied her motion for immunity under Stand Your Ground. Her lawyers argued unsuccessfully that she was entitled to a new hearing because of the 2017 amendment.

"Love is not entitled to the benefit of the shift in the burden of proof because the amendment to the state law by the Legislature in June 2017" impacts cases pending after its enactment "and, thus, is inapplicable to Love's case," the three-judge panel wrote Friday.

Following Friday's ruling, Garcia immediately scheduled a status hearing for May 29 at 10 a.m. at the Plantation Key courthouse and ordered David to be present.

"The court has received an opinion from the Third District Court of Appeal today that directly affects the order that this office was preparing from the May 7, 2018, hearing," Garcia wrote, indicating he will schedule a new sentencing hearing that day rather than grant David a new Stand Your Ground hearing.

Dustin Hunter, one of David's attorneys, could not immediately be reached for comment following Friday's ruling and Garcia's subsequent announcement.

Assistant State Attorney Colleen Dunne said the Third District Court of Appeal decision is binding in this case, despite the Second District's May 4 ruling, because Monroe County falls under the former's jurisdiction. At the time of the May 4 ruling, the Second District, which is based in Lakeland, was the only appellate court to rule on the issue. If two courts issue contradictory rulings, the local ruling is binding, Dunne said.

"We're bound by this ruling even though the Second DCA has a contradictory ruling," Dunne said. "Our court is in the Third District."

"The only thing that can trump it is the Florida Supreme Court," she said.

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