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Understanding Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” and “Justifiable Use of Force” Laws (Part I)

Update: We've further elaborated on this subject in Part II of this post. In 2005, Florida enacted the country’s first “Stand Your Ground” laws. Basically, these justify an individual whose life is in imminent danger and/or who is confronted with deadly force to:

  • Stand their ground
  • Not retreat
  • Shoot first

These laws fall under Chapter 776, Florida Statutes, entitled “Justifiable Use of Force.” Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in a position where you need to protect yourself or others with deadly force, but if you do, a basic understanding of the topics can potentially be of great benefit. (Note that this is general educational information and not legal advice). The two specific statutes in discussion are:

  1. “Use or threatened use of force in defense of person” Sec. 776.012
  2. “Home protection; use or threatened use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm” Sec. 776.013

In order to better understand the laws, and how they may affect you, it is helpful to first discuss “The Castle Doctrine.”

The Castle Doctrine

The Castle Doctrine is not a specific law per se, but rather, a concept, theory or doctrine. Its roots are in the English Common Law, which is actually the basis of many of the laws in the United States today. The Castle Doctrine basically states that a person’s home is his or her “castle,” and as such, the homeowner has the ultimate legal right to be there and to be able to protect himself or herself and others without criminal or civil liability.Therefore, if an intruder enters the home by force or otherwise, and if the homeowner’s life – and/or others - is placed in actual or imminent danger or harm, the homeowner does not need to retreat, but rather, has the absolute right to self-defense and to protect himself/herself and others through the use of force – even deadly force – if necessary.

  • The Castle Doctrine can be understood in this manner: an individual’s “castle,” or home, is one’s ultimate retreat - their sanctuary, their place of safety, their manor. This, in and of itself theoretically gives rise to the absolute right to protect oneself from all manner of harm - without fear of legal recourse or liability.

While the Castle Doctrine is centuries old, Florida and other states have enacted particular laws to address the homeowner’s right to self-defense. Florida’s current laws address self-defense not only in the home, but wherever an individual is lawfully present.

Use or Threatened Use of Force in Defense of Person - Understanding the Statute

Use or Threatened Use of Force in Defense of Person - Understanding the Statute

When is a person justified in using deadly force? Section 776.012(2) Use or Threatened Use of Force in Defense of Person is divided into sections for clarity:To clarify,

  1. A person may use deadly force if they reasonably believe that using such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.
  2. Or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
  3. The person who uses or threatens to use deadly force does not have the duty to retreat,
  4. And they have the right to stand his or her ground If the person using or threatening to use deadly force is not engaged in criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be.

Clearly, the statute’s only real purpose is authentic self-defense. It was not designed to impose harm upon others. A most notable point of the statute:

  • The individual must reasonably believe that deadly force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to self or others. This means that the individual must authentically believe that their life, or another’s, is in actual danger.

Forcible FelonyAs stated above, deadly force can be used to prevent a forcible felony. Forcible felony is defined in Section 776.08:

  • Treason
  • Murder;  manslaughter
  • Sexual battery
  • Carjacking
  • Home-invasion robbery;  robbery
  • Burglary
  • Arson
  • Kidnapping
  • Aggravated assault
  • Aggravated battery
  • Aggravated stalking
  • Aircraft piracy
  • Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb; and
  • Any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.

Controversy Pertaining to “Stand Your Ground” and “Justifiable Use of Force”

There has been much controversy pertaining to the Stand Your Ground and Justifiable Use of Force laws in Florida and other states. The Castle Doctrine was designed to protect the individual from attack and to allow the ultimate self-defense while in the safety of an individual’s own home. This, of course, is perfectly logical. Stand Your Ground laws, however, basically allow an individual to transport their “castle” or home with them wherever they go.It would seem that the intent of the Florida legislature was not to create a “shoot first, ask questions later” mindset. Yet, unfortunately, there are many instances in which exactly this has happened. Individuals who have abused or misinterpreted these laws have found themselves charged with murder and other serious felonies.Attorney David Olson, Stand Your Ground and Justifiable Use of Force Criminal Defense AttorneyAttorney David Olson has been representing clients for more than three decades, including those charged with serious felonies such as murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery and robbery. He is the recipient of numerous awards, such as the Martindale Hubbell AV Preeminent Award, a peer rating by fellow attorneys and judges, where he received a perfect 5.0 out of 5.0 for legal ability and high ethical standards. Attorney Olson represents clients in West Palm Beach, Palm Beach County and elsewhere throughout South Florida.

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