A Florida man has attempted a rather unusual stance in court that should definitely be raising some eyebrows about the United States government’s “legal” system and its standards of “justice.” After allegedly sneaking up on three of his neighbors and shooting them while they were having a barbeque, the attorneys of William T. Woodward are claiming in his defense that his actions were in fact legal as a result of some relatively recent rulings concerning the use of preemptive violence, and that his charges should be dropped completely.
The selection of cases being used to defend Woodward cite some rather interesting pieces of legislation. Among them is the “Stand Your Ground” law, which is specific to the state of Florida and gives gun owners there the legal permission to stand their ground in the face of an imminent threat, rather than forcing them to retreat like many other states mandate. Also cited was the case of Enoch v. State, a court ruling which upholds the idea that the definition of an “imminent” threat can include an attack that might be likely to happen sometime in the future. Going even beyond these two laws in terms of sheer boldness alone was the attorneys’ use of the “Bush Doctrine” to aid Woodward’s defense, which as readers may recall was a justification for preemptive war in Iraq. According to Woodward and his attorneys, the neighbors he chose to shoot (one of which was shot eleven times, but managed to survive) had been murdered in an act of preemptive self-defense, and these laws and others like it legally establish Woodward as innocent, despite their slayings.
One of his attorneys, Robert Berry, had this eloquent and insightful statement to make to news source Florida Today about the case:
“I think legally that term [imminent threat] has sort of been evolving, especially given changes of our government’s definition of ‘imminent.’ It’s become more expansive than someone putting a gun right to your head. It’s things that could become, you know, an immediate threat.”
Right, then, Mr. Berry.
What’s astounding to me about this story is the fact that a legal defense approach such as this one hasn’t already been attempted yet, at least to the best of my knowledge. More than ten years after the start of the unprovoked war in Iraq, the notion of a preemptive strike has been validated by the various departments and branches of the United States government and their rulings about the matter, stirring up little to no controversy among those in positions of power. Indeed, the idea seems to have been assimilated as part of proper justice that it is acceptable for one party to commit aggression solely on the grounds that a potential harm might be posed to him or her in the future by another individual or group. Since such a standard presumes that the threat of violence is essentially the same as an act of violence and, as such, may be met with aggressive force for purposes of self-defense, it is frankly a wonder to me that more people haven’t already attempted to justify their own violent crimes using this morally bogus line of reasoning, the legality of which is disturbing.
It is indeed quite surprising, then, that more cases like this have not been observed across the United States, whose legal code apparently permits what is essentially a violent moral free-for-all. The government itself has taken full advantage of these policies, launching war after war without real provocation and with neither the official declaration, nor the congressional authorization required to do so by its own constitution. Woodward and his legal team just may have a point here, after all: if the government is able to justify an “imminent” threat as enough cause to initiate aggressive force, shouldn’t each of its citizens be permitted to act according to the same standards?
Obviously, if absurd and morally-vacant standards of conduct such as the use of preemptive violence were to be permissible as part of everyday human interaction, chaos would ensue as individuals would pillage and seize from one another, able to justify their actions as having been legal with the excuse that they had been “imminently threatened.” What kind of a society would that be? Is it one that you, the reader, might want to live in?
Unfortunately, such a society is making its descent upon us all now that the government has already determined that justifications for using violence can include the mere potential for a threat to arise in the future. Whether or not Woodward turns out to be successful in his defense, the point I am trying to make here is that this irrational and dangerous logic is the kind of reasoning upon which the United States government has been basing its conduct. When engaging in various wars and investigations of those whom it comes to view as being an “imminent danger,” the government is able to use the excuse that a potential threat may have existed in order to justify whatever actions it decides to take, violent or otherwise.
Given that governments always operate on a double standard that grants their ruling members extra rights to which their subjects aren’t permitted, I don’t expect Woodward to be successful in his attempts to have his charges dismissed. However, I do find it important to point out the dangerous nature of a system that operates according to these standards, and what might happen if the rest of society were to follow in its footsteps and behave in the same manner.
Only time will tell whether or not Woodward will be charged with the murder of his neighbors. One thing is certain, however: a society that is led by a government that justifies the killing of others solely on the basis of having been potentially threatened is bound for nothing but violence and political chaos, especially when its own subjects inevitably become the ones determined to be an “imminent threat” by those holding positions of power.