For the second time in a week, a Palm Beach County judge has invoked Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law to clear a man of charges that could have sent him to prison for life.
In a case that is full of more coincidences than a Dickens novel, Lance Joseph was released from jail Tuesday night after his attorneys convinced Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox that the 27-year-old Belle Glade man was firing warning shots to scare off a nemesis — not trying to kill two Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies.
Deputies Corey Oliver and Charles Booth, who were in plainclothes and driving an unmarked car, were not the intended targets of the November 2013 shooting, Cox ruled. After hearing shots ring out, the deputies fired back, hitting Joseph in the back of the neck and leg. However, they and their Jeep were unscathed.
While the officers insisted Joseph was firing at them, Cox agreed with defense attorneys Jack Fleischman and Joshua LeRoy that the evidence proved otherwise.
Saying he was convinced Joseph was firing shots in the air to scare away Freddie Carter, who had threatened to kill him, Cox threw out two counts of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer and two counts of aggravated assault that had kept Joseph behind bars for two years. Joseph, he said, had no idea that deputies were nearby.
“Joseph proved by the preponderance of the evidence, that his fear was reasonable, and that he reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself … as reinforced by a history of threats from Carter, and seeing Carter twice just prior to the shooting armed with a firearm,” Cox wrote in dismissing the charges.
Joseph’s release marked the second time in a week that LeRoy got to bask in the shared joy of watching a client walk free because of a “Stand Your Ground” ruling.
He also represented Rijkard Jean-Baptiste, who was freed from jail on Nov. 25, after another judge ruled he was acting in self-defense when he opened fire at a 2012 Sweet 16 party at the Riviera Beach marina. When the shooting stopped, two teens were dead and six others, including Jean-Baptiste, were injured.
Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley ruled that Jean-Baptiste, 23, of Lake Park, had been shot and was lying on the ground when he fired his gun, killing 17-year-old Antonio Hinds, of Riviera Beach, who was firing wildly into the crowd of party-goers. Jean-Baptiste reasonably feared for his life and therefore was immune from prosecution under the controversial state law that allows people to use deadly force to defend themselves if they are in a place they are allowed to be, Kelley wrote.
Both Jean-Baptiste and Joseph, who have no felony records, were carrying concealed weapons without permits. It wasn’t until 2014 that the Florida Legislature amended the “Stand Your Ground” law so it no longer shields those engaged in “criminal activity.” However, lawmakers didn’t define what constitutes criminal activity and it is unclear whether carrying a concealed weapon even today would prevent someone from invoking their rights under the measure, Kelley wrote.
Joseph still faces a concealed weapon charge in connection with the Belle Glade incident. Fleischman said he is hopeful he can persuade state prosecutors to dismiss it. They didn’t return a phone call for comment.
In the meantime, like Jean-Baptiste, Joseph will try to rebuild his life, LeRoy said. First, he said, Joseph must seek medical treatment to remove the bullet from his neck and fragments from his leg, he said.
Before he was incarcerated, Joseph had been a licensed security guard.
While LeRoy got to deliver the news of his release to Jean-Baptiste via a video feed from the Palm Beach County Courthouse to the Belle Glade annex of the jail, Joseph received word of his get-out-of jail card in an unconventional manner.
In the middle of defending Paul Charles on a murder charge, Fleischman said he didn’t have time to drive to Belle Glade. Instead, he handed Cox’s order to Charles, who knows Joseph, after the trial adjourned for the day Tuesday. When Charles returned to the cell block, he gave Joseph the news.
“I heard there was a lot of excitement,” Fleischman said.