Daytona man wins stand-your-ground hearing after road rage attack
Marc Anthony Garcia is flanked by his defense attorneys, Carine Jarosz, left,
and Douglas Scott Williams, who successfully defended him during a recent stand-your-ground hearing - News Journal / Frank Fernandez
The case had a twist because Marc Garcia was accused of aggravated assault with a firearm against the wife of the man who punched him during a road rage confrontation in Daytona Beach.
DAYTONA BEACH — Marc Garcia said he just wanted to get to Orlando to see his son play in a flag football game. Instead the Daytona Beach resident became embroiled in a road rage incident, got punched and then drew his gun and fired off a shot.
Then Garcia got thrown into jail along with the man who punched him.
Garcia was cleared during a stand-your-ground immunity hearing in which Circuit Judge R. Michael Hutcheson dismissed a charge of aggravated assault with discharge of a firearm, which if convicted could have sent him to prison for 20 years.
Florida’s stand-your-ground law drew international attention when George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin to death in Sanford during a confrontation. Zimmerman initially indicated he would invoke a stand-your-ground defense but later opted not to seek an immunity hearing. Zimmerman goes on trial Monday on a charge of second-degree murder.
The case highlights a key difference between Florida’s stand-your-ground law, which allows people to use deadly force to defend themselves on the street, and the “castle doctrine,” which allows them to use deadly force to defend themselves in their home. Florida’s stand-your-ground law says a person does not have to retreat and can use deadly force if he or she “reasonably believes” it’s needed to prevent death or great bodily harm or to prevent a forcible felony.
That highlights a twist to the case. Garcia, 35, was accused of aggravated assault because police said he pointed the gun at the wife of Joseph Meeks, 33, the man who punched him.
But Garcia’s defense attorneys, Douglas Williams and Carine Jarosz, said they were able to successfully argue the stand-your-ground defense even though the wife was not the one who punched Garcia.
“We didn’t have it against the actual perpetrator, we had it against his wife,” Jarosz said in an interview.
“You can’t just say they’re two separate people. This was one long incident and those two were acting in concert.”
The court found that Garcia was punched before he went for his gun and that it was reasonable for Garcia to fire his gun “under the circumstances,” wrote Klare Ly, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office, in an email. The court also found Garcia was reasonable when he used his gun to keep the Meeks present, she wrote.
“Although we disagree with the outcome, the State Attorney’s Office respects the Court’s ruling regarding the application of the stand-your-ground law to these facts,” Ly wrote. “Because Ms. Jennifer Meeks had not shown any aggression toward the Defendant nor physically threatened him in any way, the Defendant had no legitimate reason to point a loaded firearm at her. As such, Ms. Meeks was a victim of Aggravated Assault with a Firearm, and we stand by our previous decision to charge the Defendant for such crime.”
Garcia said prosecutors had offered him a plea deal in which he would not have received any jail time other than the single day he had already served as long as he pleaded to improper exhibition of a firearm and agreed to forfeit his gun. But he turned it down.
“I was just totally against taking a plea,” Garcia said. “One, because I felt I did everything the proper way.”
In the motion to dismiss the charges based on Florida’s stand-your-ground law, Garcia’s attorneys Williams and Jarosz argued that Meeks could have been charged with “battery coupled with a burglary, which is forcible felony,” according to their motion. They pointed it out a Daytona Beach police sergeant, David Snowden, had said so in a deposition.
The confrontation occurred on March 3, 2012. Garcia was westbound on International Speedway Boulevard headed to his son’s football game. Garcia said it was the first time he had been alone in his Cadillac Escalade since back surgery to treat a cyst which developed at the site of a stab wound he suffered during a robbery in New York when he was a teenager. The cyst has left him partly disabled and needing a walker.
Garcia said as he approached the red light at Nova Road a car cut him off. He said he ignored the driver. But then the driver kept hitting the brakes in front of him, so Garcia said he passed the driver.
When he stopped at a light on International Speedway Boulevard and Midway he started adjusting the music on his phone. He said he looked toward his open window.
“So as soon as I went to turn and look -- that’s when I got socked,” Garcia said. “It knocked my shades, my phone completely out of my hands to the other side of the car. It knocked me into a little bit of a daze.”
The man who had thrown the punch was Joseph Meeks, 5-foot 11 inches and weighing in at 230 pounds.
Garcia, who has a concealed weapons license, reached for his revolver, which is equipped with a red laser activated by squeezing its grip. Through the daze from the punch Garcia said all he could make out was Meeks’ angry face.
“So I wanted to sight him up and see if he was going to continue to come at me. I was going to shoot him somewhere else other than the face,” Garcia said. ”.Â¤.Â¤. So I went and tried to access that red dot by squeezing, but being disoriented and all the adrenaline and everything kind of just going. I wound up squeezing both the trigger and the red dot .Â¤.Â¤. By the grace of God he wound up ducking at the last second, I mean millisecond, and it missed him.”
At that point, Meeks, ran back and hid behind his car with his wife. Garcia put his SUV in reverse and said he used his gun to hold Meeks there until police arrived.
“I just felt like I did everything in my rights to be safe and hold them there,” Garcia said. ”(The Meeks) were telling me just leave that I had won already and I’m thinking: ’How am I a winner if I had just gotten punched in the face, completely violated, sneak attacked. Honestly letting off a shot by accident in the middle of traffic, to leave the scene would automatically make me look like I was a complete felon running and evading.”
Daytona Beach police arrived and arrested Garcia and Joseph Meeks, who was charged with battery.
Meeks, 33, said in a deposition that it was he who had been cut off by Garcia in his large SUV. Joseph Meeks said in his deposition that he got out of his car and walked up to Garcia’s window because “I wanted to know why this guy just tried to run me off the road.”
He said he felt threatened because when he walked up, Garcia was rolling down his window and already had his gun.
“That was when I struck him,” Meeks said in the deposition.
Then he said he ran back and screamed that Garcia had a gun and told his wife to get out of the car.
Meeks said as his wife and him hid behind the car, Garcia was threatening them and he saw the laser’s red dot.
“And I kept seeing that thing coming through the car,” Meeks said.
Joseph Meeks was charged with misdemeanor battery, which was eventually reduced to disorderly conduct. Meeks pleaded no contest. He paid fines and court costs of $373 and prosecutors withheld adjudication, meaning he can say that he was not convicted.
Joseph Meeks did not return a phone call but Jennifer Meeks said in a brief phone interview that she was disappointed by the judge’s decision.
“I said you got the gun, go on,” she recalled telling Garcia. “Instead, he decided he was going to hold us at gunpoint.”
Among the witnesses was Juan Ricardo Collins II of Merritt Island, who was in his car nearby. He said he saw Garcia’s Escalade stopped at the light and then noticed a burgundy car drive up fast and slam on the brakes behind the SUV. He said a large man got out of the burgundy car, rushed toward the SUV, and started throwing punches, catching its driver by surprise.
“The first one I saw directly hit the guy, because I don’t think he saw it coming at all,” Collins said.
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