In 2005, Florida revised its “stand your ground” law, a controversial self-defense statute permitting citizens to use deadly force and receive immunity from prosecution. If you reside in Florida or are looking to visit soon, it’s vital to understand this law and what it means for your rights. And should you find yourself in a situation involving the stand your ground law, make sure to speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer right away.
Many states have a “castle doctrine,” which refers to a person’s right to defend themselves in case of a threat. If a home invader threatens you or your family, you, as the homeowner or tenant, have the right to use deadly force to protect yourself and your property.
The castle doctrine is expanded in many states to permit someone to use deadly force on other premises besides their home as a last line of defense after they have retreated. To be exempt from prosecution under castle doctrine, your lawyer must prove that you attempted to retreat before using deadly force, such as with a gun.
Common law provisions for self-defense or justifiable homicide contain the requirement that if threatened, a victim must try to retreat before fighting back with deadly force. Stand your ground, on the other hand, refers to the right of an individual to confront an imminent threat of violence without the obligation to retreat.
Yes, Florida has a stand your ground law, relieving citizens of the duty to retreat in the face of imminent violence or the perpetuation of a violent crime.
And it’s not the only state that permits people to defend themselves against a threat in places they are lawfully permitted to be — 28 other states and Puerto Rico also have similar laws on their books.
Florida’s 2005 revision to this law removes the obligation of someone to retreat before fighting back, a broader level of permission for justifiable force than other states have, which means if you are lawfully permitted to be on premises other than your own private property (house, lawn, etc.), and you’re threatened, then you have the right to defend yourself up to and including using deadly force or committing homicide.
The stand your ground law in Florida goes further than the statutes in other states. Sections 776.012 and 776.013 of the Florida Statutes expand the notion of castle doctrine to include permitting individuals to use force in self-defense when threatened outside the home.
Florida citizens are also permitted to use deadly force to prevent the commission of a felony, a privilege not afforded to non-law enforcement residents in other states.
For example, if you are in line at Wawa and an armed robber comes in, threatening you and asking for money in the cash register, you may fight back with your own weapon to prevent the commission of that felony.
Florida’s stand your ground law also exempts you from prosecution if you are within the bounds of self-defense or justifiable homicide.
The concept of stand your ground law in Florida isn’t a new one. Its roots extend to a case from the end of the 19th century, Lovett v. State, 30 Fla. 142, 163-64 (Fla. 1892), which permitted a homicide to be excused if the person who committed it reasonably believed there was no other way to prevent bodily harm.
More recent Florida stand your ground law examples — prior to 2005 — required the potential victim to retreat before opting for deadly force in their own defense. These examples include Weiand v. State, 732 So. 2d 1044 (Fla. 1999) and State v. Bobbitt, 415 So. 2d 724 (Fla. 1982).
Both of these decisions affirmed the obligation of the defendant to use every reasonable means to defend themselves before they were legally permitted to use deadly force.
The “duty to retreat” requirement in Florida before the 2005 statute revision was based on common law; that is, rulings in Florida appellate courts followed the principle that a defendant must “retreat to the wall” before engaging in the use of deadly force, per Hedges v. State, 172 So. 2d 824, 827 (Fla. 1965).
Florida courts also expanded castle doctrine to cover permissible use of deadly force for someone defending their home, occupants, or property, again through common law rulings, not legislation. If the defendant was in their own home when the threat or assault occurred, they were not obligated to retreat before using deadly force.
Finally, the castle doctrine was expanded in Florida to cover business owners protecting their property under State v. Smith, 376 So. 2d 261 (Fla. 3d DCA 1979).
Although the castle doctrine removes the prior requirement to first retreat in these situations, the defendant must still prove that deadly force was the only viable option to prevent serious bodily harm or death.
Florida’s current stand your ground law protects you from prosecution for homicide if you can prove that you believed you or another person was in imminent danger of bodily harm or death or that you used deadly force to prevent the commission of a felony.
Alternatively, if you can show that you acted within the principles of the stand your ground statute, which outlines the circumstances under which someone could reasonably conclude they were in imminent danger, you can be protected from prosecution.
It’s important to note that the stand your ground law and castle doctrine statutes do not apply in all situations in which someone is threatened by death or bodily harm.
Justifiable homicide in self-defense is not permitted in situations where:
In rare cases, someone engaged in criminal activity may claim self-defense, such as if they were trying to leave and the initial victim escalated the situation. Still, these cases may require a significant burden of proof for self-defense.
The key change in the 2005 stand your ground law is protection from prosecution if you are found to be within your rights to protect yourself.
If you are initially charged with assault or manslaughter, the arresting officer must provide evidence that you did not have the right to stand your ground. At the same time, your attorney must prove that you operated within your rights to use deadly force.
Your lawyer will need to demonstrate that you were lawfully permitted to be where the event occurred, that you reasonably believed you were in danger, and that the other party did not try to de-escalate or retreat from the situation.
You will be immune from prosecution if your attorney proves these key elements. If you were charged with a crime, your charges would be dropped.
The first case of note where the 2005 law applies is Peterson v. State, 983 So. 2d 27, 29 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008). In this situation, the defendant was permitted to seek immunity from prosecution during a pre-trial hearing using a preponderance of the evidence that they complied with the stand your ground law. A pre-trial hearing involves a lower burden of proof than at trial, in which the defendant must prove their rights beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Peterson case is significant because it upheld the “true immunity” provision in the 2005 revised stand your ground law. Defendants arrested in connection with an act of stand your ground self-defense may avoid prosecution entirely if a judge affirms in the pre-trial hearing that the act was justified, which differs from using castle doctrine or stand your ground as an affirmative defense in a criminal trial. Florida’s new laws mean you will not be criminally charged if you are justified in using force.
In 2017, though, Florida amended the 2005 statute to place the burden of proof on the prosecution instead of on the defense, as the Peterson decision had. Now, in a self-defense pre-trial hearing, the prosecutor must present clear and compelling evidence that the act was not justified under Florida’s stand your ground criteria.
Expanding laws to protect perpetrators of deadly force from prosecution — even when the reason is justifiable self-defense — will, by nature, be subject to scrutiny and controversy.
The national attention the Trayvon Martin case received, in which the defendant, George Zimmerman, was acquitted based on the stand your ground law, shows how polarizing laws like this can be.
Both sides have valid reasons for and against the expansion of castle doctrine outside the home, and these reasons affect individual rights, the criminal justice system, and public safety as a whole.
Advocates of stand your ground laws note several benefits to Florida’s new legislation, such as:
These benefits rest on the belief in an individual’s autonomy and their right to protect themselves, their property, and others. Victims may be able to defend themselves more easily without the responsibility of retreating first.
The basis for immunity from prosecution for using deadly force is that the defendant reasonably believed their life was in danger. However, “reasonable belief” is subjective — one of the main concerns opponents of these laws have.
Other objections include the following:
Some people believe that laws like this also have an inherent racial bias, in which one person may think they’re under a more significant threat from someone of another race than someone of their own race.
Is the change to Florida’s stand your ground law effective? Many critics of the law call for legislation reform, noting that it can be abused by violent individuals who take the opportunity to kill even when they can safely walk away. However, the law can also be life-saving if you are in a deadly situation.
Even if you can prove full justification for using deadly force, you must still prove a prima facie case in a pre-trial hearing per Florida’s burden of proof requirements. Having a knowledgeable weapons charges attorney on your side is essential for any case involving stand your ground laws in Florida. Contact The Denson Firm today to get assistance with your case.