Imagine you're home and suddenly hear a window in the back of your house break. You could run out the front door, but you grab your gun instead. Just as the intruder turns the corner, shots are fired and the assailant lies on the ground dead. Can you be charged with a homicide or do you have the right to stand your ground?
In Florida, it's likely your actions would be covered by the state's self-defense laws. In Florida, self-defense is an affirmative defense used to avoid punishment for an otherwise unlawful act. A self-defense claim looks to excuse the violent act on grounds that it was "reasonably necessary" to prevent another person's imminent use of unlawful force.
Types of Self-Defense
Defendants can use deadly or non-deadly force as an affirmative defense to justify their actions:
Non-Deadly Force: This refers to force that is not likely to cause death or great bodily harm, such as hitting or shoving someone. A person is justified in using non-deadly force where they reasonably believe that it is necessary to defend against another's imminent use of unlawful force. There is no duty to retreat.
Deadly Force: According to Florida law, a person can use or threaten to use deadly force to prevent the imminent commission of "forcible felonies" such as assault, burglary, or kidnapping. It is also allowable to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.
Stand Your Ground Law in Florida
In 2005, Florida passed the first stand your ground law in the nation that generally allows people to fight back with deadly force instead of retreating if they reasonably believe doing so will "prevent death or great bodily harm." Today more than 20 states have similar laws.
The basic function of the law is to affirm that there is no duty to retreat an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present. You can also meet force with force, including deadly force if it's reasonably believed necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm, or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
Claiming Self Defense in Court
The stand your ground law allows a person to raise the issue of self-defense either at a pretrial hearing or at trial. If a judge finds the actions were justified, they are required to dismiss the charges. If the judge doesn't find the actions were justified, the defense can still be presented in court so a jury can decide whether the actions were justified.
The Florida state legislature recently revised this law to shift the burden of proof during pretrial hearings to prosecutors, rather than defendants. That means the prosecution must now prove the use of force was not justified for a case to go to trial. However, a Florida state court judge ruled that these changes are unconstitutional. So this law is subject to change in the near future.
Overview of Florida's Self-Defense Laws
The following chart highlights important aspects of Florida's self-defense laws.
|Types of Self-Defense||Non-Deadly Force
|Self-Defense Not Justified||
Self-defense is not available to a person who:
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Florida Self-Defense Laws: Related Resources
The following links contain additional information on self-defense laws in Florida.
How Do Florida Self-Defense Laws Affect You? An Attorney Can Help
Don't let a criminal conviction ruin your future, especially where you may be able to claim self-defense. Even minor convictions are discoverable by potential employers and a conviction could disrupt your ability to receive student loans and other government assistance. Contact a Florida criminal defense attorney today to learn more about potential defenses to the charges against you.
Contact a qualified attorney.