Under Florida’s criminal law statutes, stated residents may “stand” their own ground.
You may have also heard the “stand your ground,” law referred to as the “line in the sand law,” or “the castle doctrine.” But in Florida, the proper legal terminology is “Justifiable Use of Force.”
Codified in statute §776.013, Florida’s Justifiable Use of Force law essentially states that if you’re in a “residence” where you have “the right to be,” that you “have no duty to retreat” and have “the right to stand [your] ground” and use or threaten to use:
- “Nondeadly 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; or
- “Deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use 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.”
What the above demonstrates is that there is a fundamental difference between the affirmative defense of “self-defense,” and the legal right to stand your ground. “Self-defense” is not so much a right as it is a potential defense to a charge such as assault or even murder. Other “affirmative defenses,” (e.g. potential defenses to charges) include alibis and temporary insanity.
Justifiable Use of Force expands self-defense in instances when you are rightfully in a residence. It states that if you are in your own residence, or another residence where you have the right to be, that you may be able to use force, or even deadly force, with no requirement to retreat. This may work on its own or in tandem with other affirmative defenses such as self-defense. It may even be used to stop criminal charges from being filed.
And note another fundamental difference between “stand your ground” and self-defense: this statute applies to both harm to yourself “or another.” That means that you can use deadly force to protect the life of a third party in a residence or dwelling, even if you could retreat or if you felt that your own life was not in danger. Conversely, “self-defense” may be limited to protecting your own life or welfare, hence the word “self” right in the defense itself.
“Force” means using a weapon or causing bodily harm to another. “Deadly force” means using a weapon (or even your hands) to cause “deadly” harm to another. Under this statute, even deadly force (“what might ordinarily be termed “murder”) may be justified if your actions comply with Florida’s “Justifiable Use of Force” law.
In addition, §776.013 provides that a “reasonable presumption” of fear occurs whenever someone else breaks into or is about to break into a dwelling with no right to be there. This means that if someone is illegally trying to break into your home or vehicle—or if they have already done so—that the burden of demonstrating “fear of imminent bodily harm” is essentially met. Another interesting component of this section of the statute is that it states that a vehicle may be considered the same as a dwelling for purposes of this act.
Nuances of Florida’s Stand Your Own Ground Laws
The statute is clear that it does not merely apply to a home that you own, but to any property or dwelling (including vehicles) where you “have a right to be.” The statute defines “residence” as “A dwelling in which a person resides either temporarily or permanently or is visiting as an invited guest.”
Accordingly, you may be able to use this defense as a mortgage holder, as a lessee, as a vehicle owner, as a vehicle lease holder, or even as a guest in a home, vehicle, or other type of residential dwelling. Florida’s statute thus provides one of the broader interpretations of “stand your own ground,” laws.
However, Florida courts have demonstrated time and again that they will not allow this law to be abused. For instance, even if your name is on a mortgage, if there is a domestic violence order or injunction against you then you may be considered a trespasser.
One of the benefits of Florida’s Justifiable Use of Force law is that it may be used not only as a defense should a case proceed, but that it is often used to prevent prosecution in the first place. Your lawyer will be able to discuss the specific facts of your matter with the prosecutor(s) to see if criminal charges may be dropped or not filed.
If successful, this tactic will help preserve your rights and reputation, not to mention save you time and money. For that reason, it’s important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after the incident occurred, even if charges have not yet been filed. It’s important to be strategic and to make sure that your rights are protected in “stand your ground” cases. Do not speak with law enforcement, prosecutors, or other third parties without the benefit of a lawyer present.
If you recently encountered this type of situation, then you may be nervous and concerned. You may even feel guilty about what you had to do, even if there was no malice and it was merely to protect yourself or others. All the more reason why it’s important to retain an attorney from day one, to help you through the potential issues associated with Florida stand your ground law. Your lawyer will help you through each step of the process, point out potential issues and help ensure the case doesn’t get twisted against you.
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Make sure your reputation and freedom are protected by calling (407) 708-9127today to schedule a consultation, or fill out the requested information on our firm contact form. We will help you better understand all of your rights and defenses if you are charged with a serious Florida crime.
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