Self Defense Principles Under Florida Law


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In Florida, self-defense may be asserted as a defense when someone exerts force in a manner that would otherwise be considered unlawful. This defense may be asserted in cases involving physical violence, such as to refute claims of domestic violence, battery or murder.

Basics of Self Defense

Self-defense is an affirmative defense. This means that it may be raised in an action against a person who used such force as a way to justify the use of force. Self-defense admits that some act of violence occurs but attempts to excuse it on the grounds that it was reasonably necessary to prevent oneís own harm due to an imminent use of unlawful force by another party.

Duty to Retreat

Some states require a person who is threatened with imminent harm to attempt to retreat before permitting them to respond to violence with violence. However, Florida does not require a person who is threatened by imminent harm to retreat.

Non-Deadly Force

The legality of using non-deadly force turns primarily on the issue of whether a person had a reasoned belief that the use of force was necessary. He or she may exert such force to defend himself, herself or a third party. The force can only be used when the defendant is trying to protect against the aggressorís imminent use of unlawful force.

Deadly Force

Stand Your Ground Law

Under Floridaís Stand Your Ground Law, a defendant is justified in using deadly force when he or she reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to prevent imminent death or bodily harm or to prevent the victim from committing a felony against him, her or another.

Presumed Reasonable Fear of Imminent Death or Bodily Harm
The law presumes the defendant had the requisite fear of imminent death or serious bodily harm if the victim was unlawfully on the defendantís property or in his or her vehicle. There is also a presumption under this scenario that the purported victim had the intent to commit an unlawful violent act against the defendant or other party.
This presumption does not apply if the purported victim was lawfully in the defendantís home or vehicle. It also does not apply if the defendant uses such force when he or she is participating in criminal activity or using the residence or vehicle to carry out criminal behavior. Additionally, since the presumption is based on the unlawful presence of another, it does not apply when the victim is a law enforcement officer who is entering the residence or vehicle while performing his or her lawful duties and he or she identifies himself or herself.

Supporting a Self-Defense Claim with Evidence

The standard for a defendant to get a jury instruction for a self-defense claim is when there is any evidence to support this claim. The evidence may be slight in nature and still justify the instruction. In some situations, the jury can infer the self-defense claim even if the defendant does not testify or a defense witness does not claim this defense was present.
A jury instruction for self-defense can be denied when there is no evidence offered of self-defense or when self-defense is not consistent with the defense theory of the case. Likewise, a self-defense jury instruction will be denied when the defendant committed a forcible felony like robbery, kidnapping, stalking or a felony that uses or threatens the use of force against another.

A defendant cannot make a claim for self-defense if he or she was the initial aggressor in an incident. However, if the victim withdrew from physical contact, told the other person he or she was retreating and stopped using force and the victim continued the violence, this defense may still be claimed.

Reasonableness Standard

While the defendantís subjective view of the situation is considered, the jury also considers the defendantís actions from the objective perspective of what a reasonable person would do under the circumstances.

Prosecution Standard

When the defendant asserts self-defense as an affirmative defense and presents evidence of this defense, the prosecution must prove by proof beyond a reasonable doubt that this defense does not apply.
Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer for Assistance with Your Self-Defense Claim

If you are facing charges for some violent act, it is important that you contact a criminal defense lawyer for assistance. He or she can describe the elements of this type of defense and whether it may apply in your case. He or she can also discuss other defenses that may apply under the circumstances.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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