Collective Guilt for Mundanes, "Qualified Immunity" for Privileged Killers

William Norman Grigg
Sep. 10, 2014

Kelly Roach of Orlando, Florida has been charged with murder in the shooting death of 22-year-old Maria Fernanda Godinez -- but he never fired a shot. While he did have a handgun, it wasn’t loaded. The fatal gunshot was fired by Officer Eduardo Sanguino, who sprayed nine shots in Roach’s direction, hitting him five times. One of Sanguino's ricocheting gunshots wounded his colleague, Lt. Frank Nunez.

Police responded to a 911 call from a nightclub describing Roach as a "gun-wielding maniac" who was disruptive and uncooperative when asked to leave. After the officers arrived, they attempted to subdue Roach with a Taser, but his baggy clothing made that device ineffective. The officers claimed that Roach then reached into his waistband.

According to a police press release, Officer Sanguino opened fire "[i]n order to prevent an armed individual from causing harm to any members of the public or to any of the surrounding officers…."

By opening fire, Sanguino “protected” himself at the price of killing an innocent bystander and wounding one of his comrades.

Roach has now been charged with first-degree murder -- which would mean that he intended for the officer to shoot and kill the victim. Officer Sanguino, by way of contrast, has been placed on paid vacation, protected from accountability by the untenable doctrine of qualified immunity.

Owing to an extravagantly perverse felony murder statute, and a corps of inventively depraved prosecutors, in Florida it is possible to convict a defendant without the state proving either mens rea (criminal intent) or an actus reus (criminal act).

It can be argued that Kelly Roach's misconduct helped create his predicament. The same cannot be said of fellow Florida resident Ryan Holle, who likewise was charged with murder without doing any injury to anybody.

Holle never sold drugs, never stole anything, and certainly never killed anybody. He was asleep in his apartment when a friend to whom he had lent his car did all of those things. No evidence was ever provided that Holle -- who had lent his car to the same friend on several previous occasions -- knew what his friend had planned to do, let alone that he had any role in those crimes. Yet Holle was arrested and offered a plea bargain that would have resulted in a ten-year prison term.

Properly convinced that he had not committed a crime, Holle contested the charge in court. Acting with the vindictiveness that typifies his profession, the prosecutor charged him with first-degree murder under Florida's felony murder statute. A jury convicted him of that offense, and Holle was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He has served eleven years of that sentence.

Under the principle of collective guilt used to convict Holle, a citizen whose car is stolen and then used in a crime could be considered an accomplice. All that is necessary is a suitable case and a sufficiently malicious prosecutor.

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