Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Self-Defense Law

The recent killing of a Florida teenager has brought an already divisive law into the national spotlight.  The teenager was Trayvon Martin and the law is Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law. (To learn more about the Trayvon Martin case, read here.)

The Florida “Stand Your Ground” statute can be found at section 776.012 (Fla. Stat.) and reads:

A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force.  However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

1.  He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or

2.  Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s.776.013.

Why is this law so controversial?

This law is controversial because it allows ordinary citizens to kill someone if they “reasonably believe” such force is necessary without imposing a duty to retreat.  “Reasonable belief” may not mean the same thing for all people.   Some fear that the law allows for a “wild west” environment by allowing citizens to take the law into their own hands. Let’s look at some hypotheticals:

1.  A drunken man stumbles into your yard in the middle of the night and is beating loudly on the doors.  Are you justified in killing him?

2.  Someone is following behind you on a public sidewalk and you are afraid they are about to do you harm, though they have said nothing to you.  Are you justified in killing them?

3.  Your vehicle broke down while traveling, and you are pulled off to the side of the interstate awaiting a tow truck.  Meanwhile, a car pulls off the road and parks in front of you, and the driver starts walking towards your car.  You do not recognize the individual and are afraid for your safety.  Are you justified in killing them?

Obviously, in all these examples, more information is needed in order to determine if your actions would be legal.  However, you can easily see where reasonable minds may differ as to how “reasonable” your fear may have been.

The immunity provision

Self-defense is nothing new.  The affirmative defense has been around in Florida for many years and juries have rendered many verdicts deciding whether a defendant was entitled to self-defense.  What makes the “Stand Your Ground” law even more controversial is the immunity provision in s.776.032, which can prevent a jury from ever hearing the case.  That section reads, in part:

(1) A person who uses force as permitted (in other statutes) is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer…who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer.  As used in this subsection, the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.

The immunity statute goes on to explain that police “may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.”

The fallout

Since Trayvon Martin’s killing, “Stand Your Ground” has been in the national spotlight, causing Florida legislator’s to take another look at the law.  Many legal minds predicted that the “Stand Your Ground” law was too broad when it was enacted, and would come under attack when an innocent person was killed.  Although it is too early to tell, that person may have been Trayvon Martin.

(Disclaimer: This post does not constitute legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.)

~At Matthews Law Firm, P.A., we practice criminal defense & health law.  Offices located in Bartow, Florida~

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