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Stand Your Ground Law in Florida: Are You Entitled to a Defense?

Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” law has expanded the concept of self- defense in the state, but has also created confusion as to how far self-defense goes. Stand Your Ground is an immunity to criminal and civil liability that is available if you have used force (usually deadly force) against another person. If you have defended yourself with force, and are now facing criminal charges, you need to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Stand Your Ground laws are still changing, which is why it is important that you hire an attorney that will carefully determine whether you have a Stand Your Ground immunity defense available to you.

Stand Your Ground is often called self-defense, but it is actually an immunity defense. Self- defense is raised at trial and the jury gets to decide whether the accused was right to use deadly force under the circumstances. An immunity is raised before the case ever goes to trial. If the judge determines that the evidence supports a “Stand Your Ground” immunity, then the accused cannot be convicted of the crime. If the judge decides that you were entitled to stand your ground, then you cannot be convicted for the use of deadly force- you do not risk going to trial and the jury not believing your defense, so convicting you.

The Stand Your Ground statute contains many details that are easily overlooked. You must meet all of the requirements of the statute before you can successfully claim the immunity of Stand Your Ground. First, the immunity is available to you only if you are not engaged in any type of unlawful activity. If you use deadly force against another person during a drug deal or burglary where you are a guilty party, you cannot use Stand Your Ground.

Second, you have to be attacked. This means that you cannot be the aggressor. If you start the fight, then as it escalates you shoot the other person, you cannot claim Stand Your Ground. There are rare circumstances when you can still claim Stand Your Ground though; such as when you start the fight, but then you clearly back down, and the other party continues to fight even though you made it clear you were done. In this event, you might still have the Stand Your Ground immunity available.

Third, you must be in a place where you have the right to be. If you are trespassing, you cannot assert Stand Your Ground because you had no right to be there in the first place. If you are in public place where you are allowed to be, you meet this requirement. In the past, a person could only justifiably use deadly force if he or she was attacked in his or her home. Under the “Castle Doctrine” a person did not have to retreat from the danger because a person should be safe in his or her own home. Stand Your Ground expanded the Castle Doctrine to all places where the accused is legally allowed to be, hence the name “Stand Your Ground.”

Fourth, you must reasonably believe the use of force is necessary to prevent harm to yourself, another person, or prevent a forcible felony (like robbery). This prong is the most difficult part to satisfy because whether or not you felt endangered is your own perception. In any legal question, deciding whether a person was reasonable is extremely difficult. For example; in 2017 a retired Dade City Police Officer was denied use of the Stand Your Ground immunity after he fatally shot a fellow movie theater patron after the two argued over cell phone use in the theater. The judge reviewed security camera footage and determined that the shooter was not reasonable in his fear of harm where the other patron did not hit the retired officer or otherwise do anything to put the retired officer in danger. The retired officer was denied use of Stand Your Ground.

Navigating the Stand Your Ground law is tricky and requires an attorney, especially when it comes to proving that you were actually reasonable in your belief that you needed to defend yourself. Always consult with a criminal defense attorney regarding defenses available to you. David Cronin has years of experience in criminal defense, and can provide a free consultation. Call (904) 239-6047 for a free consultation today.