In Florida, there are certain laws that dictate whether or not a person is justified in using deadly force to protect themselves. Self-defense claims that yes, a violent act did occur, but that act should be excused on the grounds of a reasonable use of violence.
Most people believe that they are justified in using self-defense when they determine the need to protect themselves from harm. Oftentimes, self-defense involves some level of force or violence aimed towards the person they are attempting to protect themselves from. Unfortunately, self-defense often falls into a gray area. How much violence or deadly force is too much? Did the defendant really need to use that much force to protect themselves?
When Can Deadly Force Be Used in Self-Defense
Not all self-defense is as controversial as the David Zimmerman case. In some cases, a defendant may use non-deadly force to protect themselves, which can often make the situation much more straightforward. However, when arguably deadly force is used, Florida law outlines only two instances in which criminal charges or liability can be overlooked.
The use of deadly force may be justified when:
- The force is used to prevent an imminent threat of a felony crime, bodily harm, or death to the defendant or another person; OR
- The force will prevent the murder of the person or a felony from taking place in the dwelling they are currently located.
These actions can be justified under two Florida Statutes sections, §776.012, commonly known as “Stand Your Ground” Law, and §782.02. It is generally assumed that any person unlawfully entering the property of another person or attempting to remove a person from their property is doing so with the intent of committing serious bodily harm or death. Self-defense can be used if the person was where they were allowed to be and reasonably feared for their safety. While some states mandate that a person claiming self-defense makes an attempt to retreat before using violence, Florida law allows any threat against a person's safety to be a valid excuse to use force.
What If I Initiated the Incident?
Even if a person provoked the initial attack, they may still claim self-defense if they withdrew from physical contact in good faith, indicated that they wanted to withdraw, and the other person continued to use aggressive force or started using violence against them. In most cases, you must prove that you exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force prior to using such force against the other individual.
When Can the Stand Your Ground Law Not Be Used?
Some people view §782.02 and the Stand Your Ground law as a free ticket for violence as a response to any threat, however, this is not the case. An individual may only act under these two Florida Statutes sections under certain circumstances.
For example, self-defense cannot be claimed if defensive force is used against:
- Someone that had a right to be on or in that property
- The parent or legal guardian of a child being removed from their home or car
- Someone engaged in illegal activity only if both parties are participating in illegal actions
- Law enforcement was already involved
How Are Self-Defense Claims Evaluated?
Ultimately, it is up to the jury to determine if self-defense can mitigate the potential violent crime charges you are facing. As the defendant, you are entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense in Florida, so long as there is some evidence to support your claim of self-defense. The standard for evidence is rather low, so it is likely that you can get your defense examined. In some cases, you may not even have to bring a witness forward or take the stand to prove self-defense—the State’s evidence may be strong enough to lead to an acceptance of self-defense.
If your self-defense claim must go before the court, a jury will examine the details to determine whether or not you acted the way a reasonable person would have done in the same circumstances. If the jury does not determine that the defendant acted in self-defense, then criminal charges will apply.