The right to self-defense, including the use of deadly force, has long been recognized in every state. Previously, before a person could use deadly force, such as a firearm in self-defense, the law required that they had a duty to retreat. The duty to retreat was changed by the Florida legislature to allow a person to stand their ground and use deadly force if they reasonably believe that taking such action is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm not only to themselves but also to another. A person may also use deadly force without retreating to prevent another from committing a forcible felony.
However, a person may use deadly force without retreating only if that person is not engaged in criminal activity and is in a place where they have a right to be. This means that if an individual is in a public place, such as on a street or in a business, they may use deadly force to protect themselves or another from a forcible felony.
What Does Preventing a Forcible Felony Mean?
An example of using deadly force to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony can be seen in the following situation: A person enters a convenience store and sees the clerk behind the cash register being threatened by someone with a gun. They overhear the gunman say, “Give me what’s in the cash register, or I will shoot you.” This is an example of a forcible felony. Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, if the law-abiding citizen walks out of the store to their car, gets a gun, and re-enters the convenience store, they may legally threaten the use of deadly force or shoot the robber. This very scenario has happened. The store clerk likewise could use deadly force when confronted by an armed robber.
Does ‘Stand Your Ground’ Apply When a Person’s at Home?
Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law also authorizes the use of deadly force when a person is in a residence or dwelling where that person has a right to be and has a reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm to themselves or another. The law provides that a person is presumed to have a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm if they are confronted with someone who is unlawfully or forcibly entering or had unlawfully or forcibly entered the residence.
While this presumption is significant, it can still be overcome if police find evidence that is contrary to the claim of self-defense. For example, if the person against whom the force was threatened or used had a right to be in the residence or was a lawful resident of the dwelling and was not subject to a restraining order preventing entrance, the Stand Your Ground Law will not apply. Additionally, it does not apply to a person who is committing a crime.
When Doesn’t ‘Stand Your Ground Apply’?
A person can’t use deadly force in an unreasonable manner. The law requires that before using deadly force, the individual must reasonably believe that its use is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.
The Stand Your Ground law also does not apply if deadly force is used against a law enforcement officer who was entering the residence on official duty, and the officer identified themselves. Use of force against a law enforcement officer entering a residence is also not presumed to be reasonable if the individual entering was known or should have been known to be a law enforcement officer.
If law enforcement and/or prosecuting attorneys believe that the use of force was not reasonable, a person may find themselves being charged with a serious crime such as murder.
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The Florida Stand Your Ground Law is intended to further the rights of citizens to protect themselves and others, from death or great bodily harm. The use of deadly force, however, is a serious matter and can result in an arrest and conviction if police, prosecutors, and ultimately a jury determined that the use of force was not reasonable. Before using deadly force, a person must quickly and correctly determine that death or great bodily harm is imminent. Know that a claim of self-defense will be carefully scrutinized and may be second-guessed by officials.
If you were charged with a crime in Orlando after defending yourself, contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Horwitz & Citro, P.A. for the legal representation you need. We can be reached by phone at (407) 901-5852 or online.