In 2008, what started as a confrontation in a South Florida Chili’s restaurant ended with a shooting that left two 24-year-old men dead, after Gabriel Mobley went to his car and retrieve a gun. While the trial judge found that Mobley was not immune from prosecution using the state’s Stand Your Ground law, a 2-1 appeals court overturned that finding last week, holding that Mobley was justified in using deadly force.
If the ruling stands, Mobley will be immune from all criminal and civil charges, thanks to the Stand Your Ground law that gained notoriety after the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
The incident started, when two men approached Mobley’s female coworkers sitting at the restaurant bar. Mobley’s friend asked the men to leave, but Mobley later approached them to make peace and explain that there had been a misunderstanding. Later, Mobley became worried when he saw them staring with what he thought was a “mean, cold [look] on his face” and then later banging on the window while standing outside the restaurant. Mobley told his friend he thought they should leave the restaurant. At this point video surveillance footage shows that he went to his car, retrieved his gun, and returned to the front of the restaurant to smoke a cigarette. A few seconds later, one of the two men, Jason Jesus Gonzalez, approached and punched Mobley’s friend, although the details of the scenario are in dispute. Then his friend Rolando Carrazana approached. Mobley said he saw Carrazana reach under his shirt and believed he was pulling out a gun. He began firing shots, delivering critical injuries to both men, who later died. No guns or weapons were found on either man, although two knives were found on the ground nearby.
Mobley was later charged with second-degree murder, but requested a hearing under the Stand Your Ground law to argue that he was entitled to immunity. The trial judge found that he was not, in part because he had returned to his car to get a gun, and fired without issuing any warning that he had a gun or attempting to mitigate the situation first.
But on appeal, two judges disagreed with this finding. “It may have been more prudent for Mobley and Chico to skitter to their cars and hightail it out of there when they had the chance; however, as even the State concedes and the court below recognized, Mobley and Chico had every right to be where they were, doing what they were doing and they did nothing to precipitate this violent attack,” the judges wrote.
The dissenting judge, Vance E. Salter, pointed out that appeals court judges typically overturn rulings to correct legal errors, not to re-interpret the facts. He lamented that his colleagues had in this case made their own independent determination about facts that were in considerable dispute, without the benefit of having heard the 13 witnesses who testified before the trial judge, or viewing the surveillance video. The surveillance footage, for example, calls into question whether Carrazana even appeared to be reaching for a weapon, Salter said.
The ruling will likely be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court and stands as the latest test of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which authorizes the use of deadly force with no duty to retreat if they reasonably fear imminent death or great bodily harm. In another Florida case last month, a judge granted immunity to a man who shot an acquaintance for threatening to beat him up.
In Stand Your Ground cases, judges and prosecutors frequently interpret the absence of a duty to retreat as eliminating any duty to mitigate the harm. The trial judge, for example, pointed out that Mobley did nothing to warn the two men that he was about to fire, or to fire a warning shot. But the appeals court ruling countered, “The statute contains no warning requirement.”
In fact, while moves to limit or repeal the Stand Your Ground law have failed, the Florida legislature is now advancing a bill to expand Stand Your Ground immunity to warning shots.