Last Updated: May 1st, 2020 at 9:21 pm
Read Time: 4 Minutes
There have been several high-profile cases of the use of Florida's Stand Your Ground law since it passed in 2005. Since becoming law, it has been successfully used to defend South Florida cases involving drug dealers, gang members, personal disputes over lovers, possessions, and even how many trash bags put on the curb.
Because these cases have been so varied, what the law means and when it can be invoked is confusing. Such confusion means you may be arrested and charged with a crime, or you may have your rights trampled by someone invoking the law.
If you are looking for a South Florida criminal defense law firm that can handle a Stand Your Ground case, contact Weinstein Legal for a free consultation.
What Does Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' Law Mean?
Florida's Stand Your Ground law, in a nutshell, allows people who feel a reasonable threat of bodily injury or death to meet force with force. The law, formally known as Florida Statutes Title XLVI. Crimes § 776.012 covers the use or threatened use of force in defense of yourself or someone else.
This statute lets you use or threaten to use force if you believe that it is necessary for protection. It also allows you to use or threaten to use deadly force if you believe your life or someone else's life is in danger, or to prevent the commission of a felony. In both these instances, the law removes the duty to retreat before threatening or using force.
This law is similar to "Castle Doctrine" laws that allow you to protect your home but leave in place the duty to retreat in public places. Florida was the first state to pass a "Stand Your Ground" law, twenty-seven states now have a version of this law. Others use it in practice through case law or jury instructions. And some states use castle doctrine.
What Does 'Duty to Retreat' Mean?
The duty to retreat or requirement of safe retreat means that in some places, even if you feel threatened, your first action should be to retreat to a place of safety. In these instances, the use of deadly force is only legally allowed if retreat is not possible or if it poses a danger to you.
Common-Law Self-Defense and Florida's Stand Your Ground Law
The Florida Stand Your Ground law did not change Florida's self-defense laws. The standard that you have the right to use deadly force in self-defense has been Florida law for more than a century. However, before the Stand Your Ground law, you were not allowed to legally use equal or deadly force unless and until you had tried everything you could to avoid it. This duty to retreat originated from common law and practice, rather than the statute.
Current Florida Self-Defense Laws
The Stand Your Ground law does not replace common-law self-defense. Instead, it broadens the scope of the law by removing the duty to retreat. The statute also presumes legal justification of the use of deadly force when unlawful entry into homes, residences, and vehicles. In addition, it gives potential immunity to defendants when their use of force is within the protections outlined by the statute.
Therefore, in all cases where you are lawfully present and not breaking any laws, you do not owe an attacker the duty to retreat. You may 'stand your ground' and use equal or deadly force to protect yourself and others. Thus, by removing the duty to retreat, the common-law Castle Doctrine is expanded to include anywhere you are legally present.
Florida's Stand Your Ground Law and Prosecutorial Immunity
The Stand Your Ground law in Florida gives you potential immunity from prosecution if your actions can be shown to fall within the provisions outlined in the statute. This chance of immunity is a significant divergence from common-law self-defense claims.
No Immunity in Common-Law Self-Defense
Prior to the Stand Your Ground statute, in Florida common law there was no immunity from prosecution if you claimed self-defense. The question of whether or not you acted in self-defense was resolved at trial. The jury decided whether your action was sufficiently justified and if you were absolved from criminal punishment and liability.
Florida Stand Your Ground Prosecutorial Immunity: 2005-2016
When the Stand Your Ground law took effect in 2005, if you used force and it met the statutory criteria, you were "immune from criminal prosecution and civil action." This means that if you could establish before your trial that your use of deadly force met the criteria, you could not be prosecuted by the State of Florida.
The procedures for determining prosecutorial immunity were defined by the Florida First District Court of Appeals' decision in Zack Peterson v. State of Florida 983 So. 2d 27, 29 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008). This case established that the Florida Legislature created a true immunity, not a new defense.
Florida Stand Your Ground Law Current Prosecutorial Immunity
The Florida Legislature significantly altered the burden of proof applicable in the immunity proceedings of the Stand Your Ground law in 2017. The change requires the defendant to establish an initial case of self-defense immunity. The bulk of the burden then shifts to the prosecution. In addition, the standard for evidence for the prosecution changed from "preponderance" to "clear and convincing."