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Self-Defense and Domestic Violence

Written by Moses & Rooth on August 7, 2017

In domestic violence cases, the accuser often has the advantage. Prosecutors and juries tend to be sympathetic towards people who claim to be victims of abuse. But in fact, there are many situations where the accuser was actually the instigator and the defendant simply acted (or reacted) in self-defense.

Standing Your Ground in Florida

But simply showing up in court after you have been charged with domestic violence and declaring, “It was self defense!” is not going to fly with the judge. Florida has specific laws governing self-defense. And even when a defendant can prove that he or she did not provoke an attack, prosecutors may still resist disbelieving the accuser’s story. This is where having an experienced Orlando criminal defense attorney on your side is critical.

Under Section 776.012 of the Florida Statutes, an individual is “justified in using or threatening to use” non-deadly force if he or she “reasonably believes” it is necessary to protect themselves against another person’s “imminent use of unlawful force.” Similarly, it is also justified to use or threaten “deadly force” to prevent “imminent death or great bodily harm.” In either case, a person claiming self-defense “does not have a duty to retreat” beforehand, i.e. they are legally entitled to “stand their ground.”

The word “imminent” is critical to establishing self-defense. For example, if a boyfriend and girlfriend get into an argument, and she lunges at him with a knife, he would probably be justified in tackling her to the ground and taking the knife away. In this scenario, the boyfriend “reasonably believed” there was an “imminent use of unlawful force” against him, and he acted proportionately in response. However, if the boyfriend then proceeded to repeatedly kick his girlfriend while she lying on the floor and no longer posed an imminent threat, that would probably defeat a self-defense claim on his part.

Proving Self-Defense to a Jury

As noted above, 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.

Posted Under: Domestic Violence

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