When the ‘Stand Your Ground’ Defense Can’t Be Used in a Case – FSU Star Travis Rudolph

April 4, 2022 Criminal Defense

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law has been used as a defense in thousands of criminal cases where someone was injured or killed since its passage in 2005. If the defendant can prove that they were fearful for their life and acted out of self-defense, they may be able to get charges such as attempted murder or murder dropped. To read all about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, visit our blog here.

However, the “Stand Your Ground” law is not always a viable defense. In the recent case of Travis Rudolph, former FSU and NFL football player, his defense team argued said defense to combat the charges he faced as a result of a deadly shootout that took place outside of his home in Palm Beach, Florida, in 2019.

In March, 2022, the judge in Rudolph’s case ruled that the “Stand Your Ground” law was not applicable, meaning that it could not be used as a defense to his attempted first-degree murder and first-degree murder charges. A review of the fatal incident, the testimony from the court room, as well as a brief overview of the “Stand Your Ground” law will all be explored.

What was the Incident?

Travis Rudolph, a former FSU and NFL football star player, was charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder after a deadly incident occurred at his home on April 7, 2019.

The deadly event was a result of an earlier argument that day between Rudolph and his girlfriend at the time, Dominique Jones. Neighbors witnessed the argument between the couple, which was about Rudolph texting another woman. Jones supposedly hit Rudolph with a bottle of tequila, stating she was going to send her brothers to kill him.

Witnesses watched Jones drive away from the scene. Jones supposedly requested her brother, Keshaun Jones, and a group of his friends to go to Rudolph’s home to confront him about the argument. Included in the group was Jones’ friend, Sebastion Jean-Jacques.

According to the court records, Jones had texted his sister prior to driving to Rudolph’s house, “He is a dead man walking.”

Just after midnight, Jones, Jean-Jacques, and two other men appeared at Rudolph’s door. It was Rudolph’s brother, Darryl Rudolph, who answered. The group of men said they were there to talk with Travis Rudolph about how he treated Dominique Jones earlier that day.

According to Rudolph’s testimony, he claimed that after he followed his brother outside to meet the four men, he was attacked almost instantly by one of the men who began punching him. This turned into a full-on fight between all of the men.

“One he punches me, all of them started jumping me,” Rudolph said in his testimony. “They were saying, ‘It’s demon time. You (expletive) with the wrong girl.’ I took it as they were trying to kill me.”

Rudolph claimed that two of the men cornered him while he was trying to get away, and they told him he was going to die, where one man supposedly pulled out a gun. Rudolph claimed that both him and his brother were facing imminent danger, and he acted in self-defense by running into his house to grab his semi-automatic rifle.

The group of four men headed back to their car, where Rudolph claims they had their own guns pointed with the headlights off. Rudolph fired off 39 rounds from his semi-automatic rifle, 10 of which hit Jean-Jacques, who ended up dying from the incident. Another man was injured and taken to the hospital after police showed up to the scene.

Rudolph claims the shooting was entirely out of self-defense, as he was fearful for the safety of his family and himself. However, during the recent court proceedings, Judge Jeffrey Gillen indicated his disbelief in the case.

Gillen noted that all of the bullets shot at Jean-Jacques hit him from behind, indicating that he was attempting to flee the scene by the time Rudolph reappeared with his weapon.

“Video clearly shows [the] defendant fired his weapon while the initial aggressors’ car was maneuvering to leave the area,” Gillen said in his decision.

While Rudolph claims the group of men were pointing their own weapons at him while in the vehicle, the investigators only found bullet casings to Rudolph’s gun. There was a Taurus 9mm handgun owned by one of the men, but the investigation revealed it was never shot. To read about how ballistics expert witnesses investigate crime scenes and analyze evidence like the bullet casings at issue, visit our blog here.

Rudolph’s brother and sister provided testimony about the incident, claiming their lives were saved by Rudolph’s actions that night.

However, the prosecution argued there was an issue with Rudolph’s defense that he was in imminent danger. They stated that because the four men were attempting to drive away from the scene when the 39 rounds were shot in their direction, Rudolph was the aggressor at that time.

Alexia Cox, Assistant State Attorney, said that there wasn’t any evidence to indicate that Rudolph and his brother were in any imminent danger once he started firing his gun. She even went as far to say, “It is completely unreasonable and illogical” to think any threat existed. “The car was reversing and heading in another direction and he sprayed the car with bullets.”

Rudolph’s attorney argued that a group of men appearing at someone’s house after midnight is a threat in itself. He stated, “If you’re going to do that, don’t bring three friends with you. That’s a gang.”

The court hearing for Rudolph’s case took place on March 7th and 8th, 2022. Rudolph was charged with one count of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder. Rudolph’s attorney, Marc Shiner, argued that the charges should be dismissed under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which highlights self-defense.

On Tuesday, March 15th, 2022, Judge Gillen ruled that Rudolph could not use the “Stand Your Ground” defense in his case. Gillen sided with the prosecution team, agreeing that the group of four men were “in retreat” when Rudolph sought out his gun and started firing. Gillen wrote that Rudolph chased the four men with the semi-automatic rifle, “despite his mother’s pleas to him to stop…none of the initial aggressors fired a single shot.”

Further, Judge Gillen wrote that the facts of the case, “clearly and convincingly cause this Court to find that, given all the circumstances at the time Defendant began shooting, the appearing of continuing danger was not so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of deadly force.”

Marc Shiner, Rudolph’s attorney, says he is disappointed with Gillen’s decision to deny the use of the “Stand Your Ground” defense in the case. Shiner did not yet reveal if he would appeal the ruling, but remains confident that Rudolph will be vindicated of all the charges once the case goes before a jury.

Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law

Under Florida Statute Section 776.013, the use of home protection is legal in the circumstance that a person presumes imminent danger, fearing that they will have great bodily harm or death upon them. A person who is in a residence or dwelling in which they have a right to be has no duty to retreat in the face of a threat, and is able to stand his or her ground and use or threaten to use the following:

  • Nondeadly force against another person when that person believes that conduct is necessary to defend him or herself against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force; or
  • Deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another to prevent the imminent commission of forcible felony.

Rudolph was attempting to use the “Stand Your Ground” law under the fact that he was on his own property and felt the threat of great bodily harm or death from the group of four men who showed up at his door.

However, the prosecution found that since the four men were already leaving the scene when Rudolph grabbed his gun, there was no longer any imminent threat of great bodily harm or death.

Not the First Ruling Against ‘Stand Your Ground’

This is not the first ruling against the “Stand Your Ground” law as a defense in a murder case. In fact, it is Gillen’s second ruling just this year against the defense. It is the third marked case in the Palm Beach Circuit within the past four months that the judge made such a ruling.

A 2020 murder that took place in Delray Beach has also recently been denied the use of the “Stand Your Ground” defense. Bachir Osias, 42, was denied the defense after he requested the judge to throw out his case, claiming he acted in self-defense. Osias shot and killed Jeff Estime, 23, on December 21, 2020. The judge asserted that Osias had no reason to fear for his life or act in self-defense, ultimately dismissing the request for the “Stand Your Ground” defense.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Getting convicted of a crime resulting in death can lead to some of the harshest penalties, including life in prison or even the death penalty If you or a loved one have been accused of unauthorized use of force in a criminal case, seek out the help of  an experienced criminal defense attorney who can determine whether you have a viable defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have represented numerous clients who have been accused of crimes involving self-defense situations and will advocate zealously on your behalf. Call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message to receive a free consultation about your case today.

Written by Karissa Key

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