Michael Drejka, the Florida man who shot and killed Markeis McGlockton after being physically attacked by McGlockton in a dispute over a handicap parking spot, was sentenced yesterday to 20 years in prison. He was convicted in August of manslaughter.
This case always seemed to me to be sufficiently ambiguous that an acquittal was very possible at trial if the criminal charge against Drejka was vigorously and skillfully defended. Unfortunately for Drejka, my observation of his legal counsel at trial revealed neither a vigorous nor skillful defense. Faced with an aggressive prosecution, such a weak defense is almost certain to result in a conviction.
That said, a manslaughter conviction was certainly never outside the realm of possibility, and such is the case almost any time a person defends themselves with deadly force. Arming oneself with a firearm for serious social purposes bring with it considerable power—life-and-death control over one’s immediate environment against threats—but also an enormous responsibility.
And while one does not need to ask for permission before using that gun in self-defense, the inspection of one’s use-of-force will be subject to after the fact more than makes up for the necessary freedom of action prior.
I always caution clients and students that the moment someone engages them in a physical confrontation they’ve just incurred two risks they weren’t incurring a moment before.
A greater than zero risk of dying in that fight.
A greater than zero risk of spending much of the rest of their life in prison.
Through training and practice and preparation we can reduce both those risks awfully close to zero. But they are never zero.
Make sure the stakes you’re fighting for are worth the risks you’re incurring, folks.
We’ll never know for certain what was going through Drejka’s head when he fired that fatal shot. If he genuinely believed that McGlockton was about to continue a sustained attack upon him after violently knocking him to the ground, then perhaps the shot was the best of the bad options available to him. Being alive in prison beats being dead or maimed in a convenience store parking lot.
On the other hand, if McGlockton was, in fact, attempting to disengage from the physical confrontation he’d initiated, and Drejka was aware that the imminent threat was over, pressing that trigger will certainly be a decision he will now regret for a very long time, indeed.
A closing thought for those who claim that “I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by six” is an adequate mindset for dealing with criminal predators—believing that those are the only two options on the table is not a considered opinion.
The actual options on the table are at least three: carried by six, convicted by 12, or acquitted by 12.
McGlockton initiated a physical confrontation and suffered the first of those options—carried by six. Drejka used deadly force in response to McGlockton’s attack, in a manner that the jury found to be unjustified, and he now suffers the second of those options—convicted by 12. (Technically, Drejka was convicted by six jurors under Florida criminal procedure, but you understand my point.)
I’d suggest that both men lost that fight.
Only the third of those options—acquitted by 12, or at least acting so within the legal boundaries that such an outcome is apparent—is what anybody would call a “win,” and optimizing for that outcome takes a better informed and thought-out self-defense strategy than a childish “better to be” cliche.
The good news is that preparing to be well-positioned to win that legal fight, to be hard to convict, is not hard to do. I’m referring here not to learning any legal tricks or magic words to say to the police after the fact. I’m simply talking about understanding where the legal boundaries for use-of-force are and staying within them. If all you do is regularly read my own blog posts on the subject, which you can do almost daily for no cost whatever, you’ll gain yourself an excellent education in the scope and limits of use-of-force law.
Anyone who believes that they are prepared to use deadly force in defense of themselves or others but is not willing to make even such a modest, cost-free effort … well, as I joke with my wife, somebody has to pay for my costly German motorcycle habit. It might as well be people who “volunteer” by choosing to remain ignorant of where those actual legal boundaries lie, and how to best say within them.
In closing, as we say here at Law of Self Defense, remember:
You carry a gun so you’re hard to kill.
Know the law so you’re hard to convict.
Attorney Andrew F. Branca specializes in the use-of-force law of the United States. His firm, Law of Self Defense LLC provides use-of-force legal advisory services to attorneys and educational resources such as books and classes to the general public.
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