Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law allows a person to use deadly force to save his or her own life -- even if there is a chance they could retreat. It eliminates a person's duty to retreat in the face of a serious physical threat.
Before Stand Your Ground became law in 2005, a person could not legally justify the use of deadly force if it could have been avoided.
Jeff Brown, a criminal defense attorney and legal analyst, predicts that Curtis Reeves will use Stand Your Ground as a defense, and this case will be a major test of the law.
"This isn't just a guy who goes into a movie theater and shoots someone. He is a retired cop, and I guarantee you there is going to be a defense that he felt he was in fear of his life, that there was great bodily harm that he felt was coming toward him, and he's going to say he can stand his ground and use a firearm."
There are conflicting reports about what exactly took place before the shooting. Investigators say that before the shooting, the victim threw popcorn at Reeves.
An arrest affidavit also says Chad Oulson "turned and stood up, striking the defendant in the face with an unknown object."
But Tuesday afternoon, a Pasco sheriff's detective said in a media briefing that there was "no physical contact" between the two men.
"You can bring a firearm to a popcorn fight now, because that's what Stand Your Ground is all about," Brown said. "If you are lawfully there, and you feel your life is in jeopardy or that you are threatened, you can defend yourself with deadly force. And that's what this issue is going to be."
Brown added that Reeves' background as a law enforcement officer used to working in high-pressure, SWAT-team situations will play a part in his defense.
"We're gonna have someone who…is going to say, as a retired cop who is used to being in traumatic situations, who ran a SWAT team, he's gonna say, 'I was in fear for my life, I felt as if this 43-year-old man was going to cause me great bodily harm,'" Brown said.
The question then becomes whether that's a reasonable defense or not.
"But I'm telling you, it's not going to be a case where someone just sat in a movie theater and didn't like that he was on his cellphone and shot him. This is going to be a Stand Your Ground defense."
But that's a defense the Pasco County Sheriff's Office plans to fight tooth and nail. Sheriff Nocco said assistant state attorney Manny Garcia was at the shooting scene early on. Nocco said he, Garcia, and the detectives discussed Stand Your Ground, and all said they did not think it would not apply.
"We did not determine that Stand Your Ground was a justifiable reason why [Reeves] shot the victim," Nocco said. "Stand Your Ground does not fly in this case."
Reeves is being held in the Land 'O' Lakes detention center without bond.
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