There’s one Stand Your Ground case that has quietly slipped under the radar in the midst of all the Trayvon Martin drama. While the two cases share the Stand Your Ground defense, the similarities pretty much end there.
Seth Browning, a 23-year-old security guard in Palm Harbor, Florida, was off duty earlier this year in March when he spotted a suspicious driver. Browning followed the vehicle, and this simple act of a concerned citizen quickly escalated into a life-or-death situation.
The alleged erratic driver, 30-year-old Brandon Baker, stopped his car and got out to confront Browning. Browning later told police that Baker approached him aggressively, and that Baker reached into Browning’s vehicle to land a few punchers. That’s when Browning whipped out his pepper spray and doused his attacker. Browning then fired one shot on Baker, killing him. Baker’s girlfriend and his brother were eyewitnesses to the event.
Ouch, that doesn’t look very good. Shooting an unarmed man – especially when family members of the shooting victim are there as eyewitnesses – could put you on the fast track towards jail time.
But Browning said he was standing his ground and evidence seems to support that, though. Police discovered that Baker’s blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit at the time and that he had taken a “significant” amount of cocaine before the incident (that would explain the erratic driving). What’s more, the two eyewitnesses changed their stories during the investigation, and they had also been drinking.
Take two questionable witnesses, throw in lots of mind-altering substances, and suddenly you’ve got the reasonable doubt in “beyond all reasonable doubt.”
Fortunately for Browning, he and his lawyer will not need to adopt that defense in court. The Pinellas County State Attorney’s Office has decided not to pursue charges against Browning, stating in their nine-page ruling that Browning was justified in his use of deadly force.
Browning was relieved by the news, and we learned through his lawyer that, “Mr. Browning and his family are grateful that this sad and very unfortunate incident appears to now be closed and behind him. Seth and his family wish to maintain their privacy and get back to a normal life and Seth intends to focus on his military duties going forward.”
As you might expect, not everybody is thrilled about the news. Baker’s mother, Bonnie, was shocked: “I really expected to hear something different. I really did.” The Baker family intends to file a wrongful death civil suit and Bonnie added, “I will go to my grave digging for justice for my son.”
This is kind of a sticky situation. Without a court case, we can’t be fully certain about what happened because both sides won’t get a chance to present their evidence. Maybe the shooting was justified, like the state attorney’s office claimed. Maybe it was unjustified. Either way, in cases like these the legal system requires the prosecution to prove guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. Not only does the available evidence fail to incriminate Browning, but it also does a fairly good job of exonerating him.
What do you think?