Florida’s stand-your-ground law has been a controversial issue since its adoption in 2005. The legislation provides guidelines for when and how an individual can defend themselves against an imminent physical threat.
Most recently, the extensive coverage of the Trayvon Martin case has brought a resurgence of attention to Florida’s stand-your-ground law and how it can impact a case. In this case, the defendant invoked and successfully used the stand-your-ground defense as justification for using deadly force.
Despite this, it is imperative to note that the stand-your-ground defense is not applicable in all situations. Strictly speaking, the underlying facts and circumstances are taken into consideration before this defense can be deemed applicable in any case.
Here’s a look at the stand your ground law through the eyes of our experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Meltzer & Bell.
Understanding Florida’s Stand your Ground Law: The Legal Basis
Before the 2005 law change, individuals had the duty to retreat in circumstances where they reasonably believed there was imminent danger. The castle law doctrine (applicable at that time) insisted on the duty to retreat but, at the same time, required individuals to use deadly force to protect themselves against an intruder in their home or dwelling ONLY.
However, the 2005 changes effectively removed this common law duty and instead allowed individuals to use lethal force to defend themselves against an intruder who is likely to cause great bodily harm to them or any other person.
The stand-your-ground law is codified under Chapter 776 of the Florida statutes, which covers justifiable homicide. Stated simply, the stand your ground defense provides an individual, in their dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, the right to stand their ground and use or threaten to use deadly force if they reasonably believe such force is necessary to prevent great bodily harm, imminent death or the commission of a forcible felony.
In simpler terms, Florida’s stand-your-ground law does not require individuals to retreat to a place of safety instead of using deadly force.
Stand your Ground V The Castle Doctrine: What’s the Difference?
Although these two terms are often used interchangeably, there is a distinct concept that makes the terms different. The key concept that distinguishes both types of defense claims is the circumstances under which a person is allowed to use deadly force.
To put this into context, the stand-your-ground defense is allowed in situations where a person uses deadly force in situations where it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to them or someone else. Stated simply, the individual does not have a duty to retreat, and their version of self-defense applies wherever they are located.
On the other hand, the castle doctrine requires the individual to retreat, and they are only entitled to use deadly force to defend themselves against imminent danger if the intrusion happens in a dwelling.
When Does stand your ground defense apply in Florida?
It is imperative to note that this defense is not applicable in every case. In other words, it is not a defense of general application.
Therefore, if you invoke this defense in court, there are certain things you will need to demonstrate in order to succeed. Some of these things include:
- You were located in a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle. In simpler terms, the law requires the person to have lawful access to the dwelling, residence, or any other structure attached to a building or house.
- You had reasonable belief of impending death or bodily harm. You need to show with clear and compelling evidence that you reasonably believed the intruder was about to commit a crime at the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, and therefore there was a need to act quickly to prevent them from harming you or any other person.
That said, the duty to stand your ground is buttressed by various presumptions in Florida’s statute. For example, section 776.013(4) presumes the intruder is entering the dwelling or residence to commit an offense involving force or violence. Therefore, requiring the homeowners or gun owners to act quickly to prevent harm.
What are some of the exceptions to the stand-your-ground defense?
As noted earlier, not everyone who invokes this defense in court is likely to succeed. This is because the governing statute provides limitations for the application of this defense. In other words, Chapter 776 provides exceptional circumstances which may preclude someone from invoking this defense in court.
Stated simply, the stand your ground defense doesn’t apply if:
- The person defending themselves was engaging in some form of criminal activity. For example, the court would be reluctant to entertain this defense if the defendant is a drug dealer who shot someone during an attempted robbery at a drug deal.
- The person uses deadly force against a law enforcement officer performing their official duties. Therefore, standing your ground is not a defense when an individual harms a police officer who is chasing a suspect.
- The person uses deadly force while trespassing or breaking into someone else’s premises. This is because the stand-your-ground defense can only be used if the person who uses deadly force is in a place where they are legally allowed to be.
- The person using deadly force provoked the other party or if the other party had already attempted to leave the premises.
What is the duty to Retreat?
The duty to retreat goes hand in hand with the duty to stand your ground. In most jurisdictions, the law expects that a person threatened with bodily harm will reasonably attempt to escape from the current situation before resorting to using deadly force. This act underscores the duty to retreat.
However, the law in Florida envisions the duty to stand your ground. Stated simply, the law expects that individuals who reasonably believe there is imminent danger of harm will stand their ground and use deadly force in self-defense.
Consult with a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you or your loved one is facing a homicide charge in Florida, it is imperative to explore all possible options for fighting the charges. Stand your ground and the castle doctrine are extremely complicated concepts but viable defenses in any homicide charges.
Contact the Attorneys at Meltzer & Bell to help you safeguard your rights and interests in your case. Essentially, a criminal defense attorney in Florida will work hard to ensure that your charges are reduced or dropped altogether.
Contact us today for a free case evaluation.