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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Advocate for gun owners calls for better education on self-defense

Ariel Torres Meléndez, president of the Corporation for the Defense of Puerto Rico Weapons License Holders

By The Star Staff

Ariel Torres Meléndez, president of the Corporation for the Defense of Puerto Rico Weapons License Holders (CODEPOLA by its Spanish acronym), said Wednesday that better education is needed on what constitutes legitimate self-defense during an attack.

Torres Meléndez made his remarks after a man was accused of shooting another man dead during a recent incident in Carolina after the latter tried to hurt him with a bat. On Wednesday, Judge Edwin Otero Ortiz reduced the bail of Juan Meléndez Suárez to $30,000, which he was expected to post the same day.

The incident has raised questions on whether it was legitimate self-defense because Meléndez Suárez shot the man several times, killing him, after he was lying on the ground. Island law states that any person who defends his/her person, dwelling, property or rights, or the person, dwelling, property or rights of others under such circumstances as to reasonably believe that there is peril of imminent danger, will not be held liable, provided there is the rational need for the means employed to avoid or repel the damage, lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the defending person and no more damage than is necessary is inflicted to avert or avoid the injury.

The bail reduction came after former Judge Hiram Sánchez publicly shed some light on the concept of self-defense.

“One is justified to claim self-defense because one must shoot to overcome resistance,” Sánchez said. “In circumstances like that, you can’t be choosing to shoot the person’s legs because you can miss the shot, then they can hit you badly with the bat and even kill you. Therefore, you have to shoot the [attacker’s] body.”

Torres Meléndez noted that current law does not establish the number of shots that must be fired to repel an attack.

“It is at the discretion of the one who is defending himself, when he feels that he is no longer in imminent danger,” he said. “In the video of the scene, a man [Carlos Misael Clemente Rosario] intercepts another vehicle [a Toyota 4 Runner] with his Suzuki XK7 vehicle, gets out of the car with a bat in his hand, makes a first feint showing his intention to hit him [the Toyota driver] with a bat and then breaks the window of the other man’s vehicle. The other man repelled the aggression with a firearm and made sure that it did not represent more danger to his person.”

Meléndez Suárez’s defense attorney, Omar Domínguez, denied that his client is a confessed murderer or that he is the person appearing in a video of the incident.

“I have to clarify that the identification process is highly questionable because as of yet, there is no eyewitness to identify [Melendez Suarez],” the lawyer said. “They’re trying to identify him from a video, where the person’s face is not visible, the license plate is not visible, there are a lot of technical issues. And if you look closely, you see two people, one gets out of his vehicle with both hands up and then a weapon appears. If you look closely, the one that comes with the bat has a bag on his left side and you never see where that weapon comes from … that’s part of what we see.”

Regarding arguments that Clemente Rosario ran away when the shots were fired and ceased to represent a threat, former judge Sánchez stressed that, in this case, “the individual initially had a bat.”

“This can do a lot of damage, but what if he had a plan B? What if he also had a ‘revolver’ like the one I have with five shots that fits in a pocket and at that moment he takes it out?” he said. “It is very easy to say ‘I would not have continued shooting.’”

The former judge said the standard is that of a reasonable person: “You must be a reasonable person in fear of serious bodily harm,” he said. “Fearing that he will suffer serious bodily harm is enough to defend oneself.”

However, he noted that the weapon used for self-defense has to be proportional to that of the attacker.

For example, if one person slaps another, the latter cannot defend himself with a knife or a firearm.

“It has to be proportional,” the former judge said. “The third requirement is that there has been no provocation. Those first three elements are clearly present in this case.”

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