Indian American Nirav Patel’s civil immunity case gets a second opinion

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Indian American Nirav Patel, who was declared immune from criminal prosecution in Florida under its “Stand Your Ground” law in 2008, is now facing issues with it after a recent decision to amend it.

According to a Courthouse News report, Patel was arrested back in 2008 after he got into a fight with another Indian American, Ketan Kumar at a bar in Tampa, Florida.

Patel was charged with felony battery when he tried to defend himself by striking Kumar with a glass, after Kumar attacked him, blinding Kumar in the left eye.

When Patel claimed it self-defense under the “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows a person to use force against an attacker before trying to retreat, allowing him to receive immunity, Kumar responded with a civil suit accusing Patel of battery and negligence to which Patel petitioned in Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals, arguing that his immunity from criminal prosecution extended to civil lawsuits as well.

The appellate court agreed but the decision was in conflict with an earlier appellate ruling from the state’s Third District Court of Appeals regarding a recent decision that the state Supreme Court said the law “is silent as to the procedure to be used for determining immunity,” however, the statute does have separate language dealing with attorney fees for civil and criminal cases, which the justices interpreted as the law requiring separate immunity hearings.

The state also decided to amend the Stand Your Ground law after unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot by neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman, who was then acquitted by the law and a 2012 study by the Tampa Bay Times found the law had been invoked more than 200 times since its inception, allowing 70 percent of those accused to walk free including gang members and drug dealers, causing two Miami circuit judges to declare it unconstitutional

“The legislature … did not suggest procedural mechanisms for invoking and determining Stand Your Ground immunity,” Justice C. Alan Lawson wrote. “Necessarily, those procedures are being developed by the judiciary.”

In a phone interview with Courthouse News, Patel’s attorney Stephen Romine shared his disagreements with the ruling.

“Either you’re immune or you’re not,” Romine said, disputing the justices’ mention of civil attorney fees as a rationale for needing separate hearings, because criminal statutes don’t have language allowing defendants to sue the state for wrongful prosecution.

Romine also pointed to other case law that prevents a person from relitigating issues already dealt with by a criminal court, “there are so many statements of law by the courts that run counter to the reasons in this opinion,” he said.

“You can call it a bit of legislative rambunctiousness. We see that Stand Your Ground has been so elastic that the Florida Supreme Court is willing to check what it’s doing to other cases,” said Tampa attorney Michael Maddux, who is representing Kumar and intends to pursue the civil lawsuit adding that “[Patel] can’t deny our client the opportunity to pursue civil justice.”

“They couldn’t have picked a worse factual case to decide this on,” Romine said, defending Patel’s actions against Kumar. “It’s unfortunate for my client to have to go through the time and cost associated with litigating this again.”