Does Self-Defense Allow the Use of Deadly Force?

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 the 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 dealing with a case involving self-defense, it is crucial that you retain the counsel of a seasoned criminal defense lawyer in Tampa. Get more insight from Thomas & Paulk below, or continue reading for more information.

What Is Deadly Force?

Deadly force, also referred to as lethal force, is generally defined as the use of enough force or physical violence to cause death or serious bodily injury to another person. Using a knife, firearm, or even striking someone with a motor vehicle could be considered acts of deadly force, although the determination of whether force was “deadly” will vary depending on the circumstances.

What Is Self-Defense?

Self-defense is defined as defending oneself or one’s interests, typically through physical force or violence, against what is reasonably perceived as an attack or assault. A person who has been accused of a violent crime such as assault or even murder may be able to use self-defense as a valid justification for their act/s if they were in reasonable fear for their safety.

When Can Deadly Force Be Used in Self-Defense

Now that we’ve defined self-defense and deadly force, how do these two interact with one another? In Florida, deadly force can be used in defense of oneself or another—in certain circumstances.

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.

Let’s look at an example¬†of justified deadly force in Florida. Bob is at a bar when he is approached by another man, Joe, who pulls a knife and threatens to stab him because he believes Bob has been sleeping with his wife. Bob has a license to carry a concealed firearm and pulls his weapon. He tells Joe that he will shoot him if he does not back down. Joe advances and Bob fires, killing Joe. This is a made-up example but it displays the use of deadly force in self-defense.

In reality, deadly force cases are not necessarily as straightforward. If you’re charged with a crime but were using deadly force to protect yourself or someone you love, your attorney will need to prove this. Physical evidence and the testimony of witnesses can help, but it may take an aggressive strategy and full knowledge of Florida’s deadly force laws to succeed.

Deadly Force Laws in Florida

Deadly force 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. This law may apply in cases involving burglary or robbery.

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.

Interested in finding out more about deadly force and self-defense in Florida? Are you in a situation where you’ve been arrested or charged with a crime when you were only trying to protect yourself? At Thomas & Paulk, we are former prosecutors who have over four decades of combined legal experience. We have helped thousands of clients in Tampa and throughout the state in the face of violent crime charges, and we understand how to use self-defense as a justification for deadly force.

Call (813) 321-7323 today for a free, confidential consultation.

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