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Can I Argue Self-Defense in Florida?

If you were involved in a dangerous situation where you feared for your life, you should be allowed to protect yourself. Florida implements a self-defense law that legally protects individuals against violent charges for acting out of self-defense. In today’s blog, we discuss how to argue self-defense in Florida, particularly according to the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law and its limitations.

Arguing Self-Defense

Individuals can use deadly force or non-deadly force as an affirmative defense to justify their actions. Non-deadly force 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 this kind of non-deadly force when they reasonably believe that it is necessary to defend against another's imminent use of unlawful force. Note that there is no duty to retreat in this situation.

In the case of deadly force, under 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 if they have reasonable belief that such force is necessary to protect themselves. The use of deadly force is also allowable to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.

In both scenarios of non-deadly or deadly force, the law presumes that if an individual is at home or in their car, they have a reasonable fear of imminent death or bodily harm.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law affirms that there is no duty to retreat an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present. Individuals 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 as mentioned above.

More specifically, the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law broadens the scope of a common law self-defense claim by:

  • abolishing the general “duty of retreat” rule (thereby applying elements of the former “Castle Doctrine” to all places where a person is legally present);
  • legally justifying the use of deadly force in scenarios involving unlawful entries into dwellings, residences, or vehicles; and
  • providing potential immunity to defendants where the use of force is shown to fall within the protections of the statute.

The 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 must dismiss the charges. In the case that 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.

Limitations on the Self-Defense Argument

Be aware that self-defense is not available to a person who:

  • uses defensive force while engaged in an unlawful activity;
  • initially provokes the use or threatened use of force against themself, unless:
    • they reasonably believe they are facing imminent grievous bodily harm and they have exhausted every means to escape;
    • they withdraw from physical contact with the assailant and clearly indicate their desire to withdraw and terminate the use of force.

A defendant who is an initial aggressor may claim self-defense if in good faith, they withdrew from physical contact, clearly indicated to the other person that they desired to withdraw and terminate the use of force, and despite the communication and withdrawal, the other person continued or resumed the use of force.

In the context of dwellings, residences, and vehicles, where these locations presume a reasonable fear of imminent harm, the law lists 4 scenarios where the statutory presumptions of reasonableness will not apply. They include the following:

  • the person against whom the defensive force is lawfully present or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder is the subject of an injunction or no contact order;
  • the person against whom force was used was attempting to remove their child or grandchild, or otherwise possesses lawful custody or guardianship of the child;
  • the person who uses or threatens to use defensive force is engaged in a criminal activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further a criminal activity;
  • the person against whom the defensive force is used or threatened is a law enforcement officer and the officer identified themself, or the person using force knew or should have known that entering person was a law enforcement officer.

Let Hubbs Law, P.A. Help Argue Your Case

If you have been charged with a violent offense against an attacker, you have the option to argue that you acted out of self-defense. Florida’s Stand Your Ground law does not require a person’s duty to retreat in the face of violence and, in most cases justifies force on force. There are exceptions to this case, so it is important that you consult an attorney to better understand your case and how you might argue self-defense.

Let Hubbs Law, P.A. help. Schedule a free consultation today to discuss your options.

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