The killing of Trayvon Martin shined a spotlight on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. This poorly understood 2005 law seems here to stay. If you’ve defended yourself using force, then you’ll need to know how the law can possibly protect you from prosecution.
The Old Self-Defense Law
United States common law is the set of rules that early American colonies inherited from Great Britain. Common law is the foundation of criminal law in all U.S. states, including Florida. According to the common law, a person can use deadly force in self-defense—but only after using every reasonable means of retreating from danger. Essentially, you had to “retreat to the wall” before you could use deadly force. This common law requirement to flee from danger is called the “duty to retreat.”
The duty to retreat wasn’t required in one key situation: when confronting an intruder in your home. In these situations, the law didn’t obligate homeowners to flee from intruders. Instead, due to what is called “The Castle Doctrine,” they could use deadly force if they reasonably believed it necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily injury.
Florida Abolishes the Duty to Retreat
In 2005, the Florida legislature passed its “Stand Your Ground” law, which basically extends the “Castle Doctrine” to any place where you have a legal right to be present—a place of business, a public sidewalk, or in someone else’s home. In effect, the law says that if you have a legal right to be somewhere, you aren’t legally required to retreat when someone threatens you with death or serious injury. Instead, you can “stand your ground” and defend yourself or another person—with deadly force, if necessary.
The Presumption of Reasonable Force
According to the common law, you can only use deadly force if you reasonably believe it is necessary to protect yourself or another person from death or serious bodily harm. For example, if an elderly grandmother comes at you with a flyswatter, you can’t shoot her in self-defense because nobody would reasonably assume she could cause serious bodily injury or death.
However, Florida’s law gives people more leeway when defending themselves inside residences, dwellings, and vehicles. In these situations, the law will presume that you had a reasonable belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury simply because the intruder had broken into the dwelling or vehicle.
Immunity from Prosecution
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law protects defendants in another powerful way: It offers immunity from prosecution. Under common law, a defendant had to prove self-defense to a jury at a trial. However, Florida now allows defendants to avoid prosecution altogether if they can prove at a pretrial hearing that the “Stand Your Ground” law covered their actions.
Get Expert Advice From a St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney
Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law continues to face attacks in courts as unconstitutional, so you’ll need an experienced criminal defense attorney who stays on top of the most recent changes. The attorneys at Khonsari Law Group have experience raising self-defense claims, including “Stand Your Ground.” Call us today at (727) 269-5300 for a free consultation or fill out our online contact form.