It’s natural to defend yourself when you are in danger. But how you defend yourself can have legal consequences. Understanding when the law permits you to use force, and what kind of force it permits you to use, can prove critically important in making the right decision under stressful conditions. Here is an overview of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and how it may affect your right to keep yourself, your loved ones, and your property safe.
What Is a Stand Your Ground Law?
Generally speaking, a Stand Your Ground law is any law that sets the conditions of when and how you can justifiably use force against another person in defense of yourself, your property, or other people. Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws, for instance, address your rights to use lethal and non-lethal force against another person to defend yourself, someone else, your home, or other property. Florida’s Stand Your Ground provisions are among the most protective of rights of self-defense in the country. Click here to see what other states also have these legal protections.
Florida’s Stand Your Ground Laws: Three Broad Categories of Self-Defense
Under Florida law, you have the right to threaten to use, and to use, non-lethal or lethal force against another person in three broad categories of circumstances: to defend yourself or another person, to defend your home, and to defend property. Notably, in each of these circumstances you do not have an obligation to first retreat or try to retreat. Instead, Florida law permits you to stand your ground:
- In defense of yourself or another person. Use or threatened use of non-lethal force is permitted to defend yourself or another person when and to the extent that you reasonably believe that such conduct is necessary to defend yourself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. Use or threatened use of lethal force is permitted when you reasonably believe that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to yourself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony (so long as, at the moment you use or threaten to use lethal force, you are not committing a crime yourself and you’re in a place where you have the right to be).
- In defense of your home. Use or threatened use of non-lethal force is permitted when you are in your home and you reasonably believe using that force is necessary to defend yourself or another person against the imminent use of unlawful force. Use or threatened use of lethal force is permitted when you are in your home and you reasonably believe that force is necessary to defend yourself or another person to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felon Importantly, you are presumed to have the reasonable belief necessary for using lethal force if the person you use it against is illegally breaking into, or has illegally broken into, your home or occupied vehicle, or is trying to take someone from your home or occupied vehicle by force against their will.
- In defense of property. Use or threatened use of non-lethal force is permitted when you are protecting real property (other than your home) or personal property belonging to you or a family member when you reasonably believe it’s necessary to prevent or terminate a person’s trespass on, or other criminal or tortious interference with, that property. Use or threatened use of lethal force is permitted to defend such property only when you have the reasonable belief that it’s necessary to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.
Three Important Exceptions to Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law
Florida law creates some important exceptions to the permitted use of non-lethal and lethal force that might seem to fit within the categories above. Here are three of the most important exceptions when the stand your ground rules do not apply:
- When you are the aggressor. If you are attempting to commit, committing, or escaping from the commission of a forcible felony, you cannot have the protection of Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws. The laws also do not protect you if you initially provoked the use of force against yourself, unless the force being used against you puts you in fear of imminent death or great bodily harm and you have exhausted every reasonable means available to escape (other than using lethal force), or you have clearly and in good faith broken off from being the aggressor.
- When you use force against law enforcement. The stand your ground laws above do not authorize you to use force against a law enforcement officer making a legal arrest.
- When you use deadly force against a lawful occupant of your home. There is no presumption that you had the reasonable belief necessary to justify lethal force in your home if you use that force against someone who a legal occupant of your home. This means that you may not use such force against an estranged spouse who enters your home unless you have an order of protection (also known as a restraining order) or other valid no-contact order against that person.
Remember, too, that in all circumstances to which Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws apply, your beliefs of imminent harm must be reasonable. You cannot use non-deadly or deadly force against someone just because you have an unreasonable bias against a particular group of people, or against actions that a reasonable person wouldn’t think are particularly threatening. Also, Florida law usually does not consider verbal threats enough to create a well-founded fear of imminent harm.
Controversy Surrounding Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law
Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws faced significant controversy recently when an argument over a handicapped parking space at a Clearwater grocery store escalated into a deadly shooting. The shooter had confronted the shooting victim’s girlfriend over her having parked in a handicapped spot. The victim, who had gone into the store with the couple’s child, pushed the shooter to the ground. The shooter, who carried a concealed weapon legally, drew his gun while on the ground and shot the victim in the chest, killing him.
The Pinellas County Sheriff decided not to charge the shooter with a crime, citing Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law. The decision prompted a public debate over whether the shooter’s fear of imminent harm had been reasonable, and whether the law deters conflict or makes it easier for conflicts to escalate into a deadly confrontation. Others contend the law gives legal cover for people whose fears are based only in racial bias. However you feel about these arguments, it’s likely that this debate will repeat every time Stand Your Ground is invoked to justify a killing.
Florida Stand Your Ground Defense Lawyer
If you’re involved in a case where you had to draw your weapon or otherwise use force against another individual, whether lethal or nonlethal, you need an experienced, skilled attorney by your side. Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws will continue to prove controversial, so hire a lawyer committed to enforcing and defending your right to self-defense. Contact us today at (727) 269-5300 to discuss how we can help.