Understanding Florida’s Stand Your Ground Defense

Dubbed by critics as a “get out of jail free card,” Florida’s stand your ground self-defense law is controversial to say the least. There are a number of cases, such as the death of Trayvon Martin, where a defendant successfully used the defense as justification for using deadly force. The law, codified at Chapter 776 of the Florida Statutes, allows a homeowner to use deadly force if he or she is in fear for his or her life or the lives of members of the household. 

Because Florida’s stand your ground defense only applies in factually specific situations it is important to discuss the defense with an experienced criminal law attorney. The attorneys at Valiente, Carollo and McElligott PLLC provide those accused of crimes with exceptional legal services every day and are capable of assisting you in raising the stand your ground defense. If you need legal advice in the Miami or South Florida area, contact Valiente, Carollo and McElligott PLLC today for a consultation. 

What Is The Stand Your Ground Defense?

The stand your ground law is a statutory defense categorized under Florida’s justifiable uses of force (“self-defense”). The statute states that a person in his or her dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle has the right to stand his or her ground and use or threaten to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes such force is necessary to prevent imminent death, great bodily harm, or prevent the commission of a forcible felony. 

When Does Stand Your Ground Apply?

First, to claim the defense, a person must be located in a dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle. A dwelling or residence is a home, building, or other structure (including a tent) that is designed for people to stay overnight. The definition of dwelling or residence also extends to a porch or other structure attached to a building or house. To claim the stand your ground defense, a person must have lawful access to the dwelling or residence. This is why “stand your ground” is sometimes referred to as the “castle doctrine,” which allows a person to protect his or her home, or “castle.” However, most states have the “castle doctrine;” what Florida does is extend it outside of a person’s home (or “castle”).

To claim the defense, a person must have a reasonable belief of impending death or great bodily harm. There is a presumption that a person intended death or great bodily harm when the one harmed by deadly force was attempting to unlawfully or forcibly enter a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle or was in the process or removing another against that person’s will from a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle. Simply stated, there must be a clear reason to believe there is a threat someone is about to commit a crime at the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle. Examples include a burglar breaking into your home or a kidnapper attempting to kidnap someone in the home or car.

What Force May Be Used?

The stand your ground statute allows the use of deadly force where there is a threat of death or great bodily harm. Deadly force is force that is capable of taking someone’s life. As the statute allows the use of deadly force in self-defense, stand your ground is often used as a defense in homicide cases.

What Are the Exceptions To Stand Your Ground?

Stand your ground only applies when the person using deadly force is in a place he or she is legally allowed to be and is not in the process of committing a crime. Thus, this is not a defense when someone harms another person while trespassing, breaking and entering, or committing any other crime.

Stand your ground also does not apply in situations where the person using deadly force provoked the other person or the other person already attempted to leave the premises. Thus, this is not a defense when someone picks a fight or the other person is running away. 

Finally, stand your ground is not a defense when force is used against a law enforcement officer performing an official duty of the job. Thus, this is not a defense when someone harms a police officer serving a warrant or chasing a suspect. 

What Is The Right To Stand Your Ground?

The right to stand your ground means that there is no duty to retreat. A duty to retreat generally refers to the thought that a person who has an opportunity to escape potential harm should take that opportunity. However, under Florida’s stand your ground statute, there is no duty to retreat. Thus, even if a person who eventually used deadly force had the opportunity to escape the situation before using deadly force, he or she is not required to have attempted an escape to claim the defense.

Can Someone Standing His or Her Ground Be Prosecuted?

Under the Florida statute, prosecutors may determine a person standing his or her ground is immune from criminal & civil liability. If the prosecutor determines the stand your ground defense does not apply, it then becomes the defendant’s duty to raise the defense of standing your ground. Once the defendant establishes all the elements of the defense, it then falls on the prosecution to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant WAS NOT standing his ground.

Contact a South Florida Criminal Attorney 

If you are accused of a crime and you believe you were rightfully standing your ground it is important to seek legal representation immediately. Establishing a defense under the stand your ground statute requires laying the framework from the beginning of the case. Experienced criminal defense attorneys like those at Valiente, Carollo and McElligott PLLC can help the prosecution understand the circumstances from your point of view. With that guidance, our attorneys may be able to prevent any charges from being filed. 

If you must assert the stand your ground immunity in court, Valiente, Carollo and McElligott PLLC’s trial-tested attorneys have the skills necessary to assert your rights. Contact our qualified criminal defense attorneys today to discuss your case.