Florida Statute 776.012 divides self-defense into two categories. First, the justifiable use of non-deadly. A person is permitted to use force, except deadly force, against another when that person reasonably believes it to be necessary to defend him or herself, or another’s imminent use of unlawful force. A person who uses or threatens to use non-deadly force does not have a duty to retreat before using such force. Second, the justifiable use of deadly force. A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly forced if they reasonable believe that using or threatening to use deadly force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to him or herself, or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.
Defense of Property
Florida Statute 776.031 is very similar to the self-defense statute but allows for the defense of property. A person is justified in using force, but not deadly force, against another when they person reasonably believes that using force is necessary “to prevent or terminate the other’s trespass on, or other tortious or criminal interference with either real property other than a dwelling or personal property…” Essentially, the law allows you to use non-deadly force to protect your property or property of a household member. Much like the self-defense statute, the does not require a person who acts under this statute to retreat prior using or threatening to use non-deadly force. The same statute allows for the use of deadly force when the person reasonably believes that it is necessary to prevent the imminent commission of a forceable felony. Again, when using deadly force under this subsection there is no duty to retreat before using such force.
Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law
Under 776.012, 776.013, and 776.031 the much-publicized law allows a Court to make a pre-trial ruling that a defendant’s actions were justified. A motion is filed asking a Judge to hold the defendant immune from prosecution. After filing the motion an evidentiary hearing is held and the Judge decides the facts and determines if the defendant was justified in using force. If the Court determines that a defendant was justified in using force than they will grant the motion requesting immunity from prosecution and the case is dismissed. However, if a court does not grant the motion requesting immunity the defendant may still argue to a jury, that they were justified in using self-defense.
Section 776.012 says the legal standard is whether someone “reasonably believes” that force or the threat of force was necessary under the circumstances. This means that the jury must objectively determine if a reasonable person, faced with the same situation as the defendant, would have taken the same or similar action. Of course, the burden is always on the prosecution, not the defendant, to prove all elements of a domestic violence charge “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Due to Florida’s strong “stand your ground” laws, a defendant is entitled to argue self-defense if there is any evidence supporting such a theory. The judge can only refuse to instruct the jury on self-defense if it is inconsistent with another defense theory presented at trial–e.g., the defendant testified he was not at home on the night of the alleged domestic violence incident. A defendant also cannot argue self-defense if he or she provoked the original threat or violent act, or was in the process of committing some other crime.
As you can see, arguing self-defense is more complicated than you might think. If you are charged with domestic violence, you need an experienced attorney who can review your case and determine if self-defense or some other theory will best serve your interests. Call the offices of Moses & Rooth, Attorneys at Law, at (407) 377-0150 today if you need to speak with someone right away.