When Is It Justified to Shoot in Self-Defense?
What Florida's "stand your ground" law saysBy June D. Bell | Last updated on November 15, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorneys John A. DeVault, III and David Oscar Markus
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- No Duty to Retreat Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law
- What the Law Means
- Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer
Does Florida state law give you permission to shoot a woman who may be an armed robber—or just a salesperson—as she knocks on your door and peers through your window? Does it allow you to use deadly force against a panhandler who may be approaching you with a knife and demanding your wallet—or who is only trying to ask for a handout?
Some lawyers fear that scenarios like this, extreme as they seem, fall under the reach of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which removes people’s obligation to retreat from dangerous situations before using force to protect themselves.
No Duty to Retreat Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law
According to the traditional Castle Doctrine, individuals who are under attack in their homes don’t have to retreat, even if they can do so safely. Rather, people in their homes generally have the right to defend themselves against intruders, even with the use of deadly force.
The stand-your-ground doctrine adopted in Florida and other states extends this right of self-defense with no duty to retreat outside of people’s homes into public spaces. As Florida’s law puts it, “A person is justified in using or threatening to use 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 Law Means
“When people become angry and strike out, this gives them a justification and defense they wouldn’t have had before,” says John DeVault, former president of the Florida Bar. “You no longer have an obligation to retreat. You can stand your ground and blow someone away.”
The “Stand Your Ground” law, which took effect on October 1, 2005, also limits police officers’ and other law enforcement powers to arrest and hold in custody people who claim they used violence in self-defense.
David Oscar Markus, vice president of the Miami chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, says that under Florida law, a person is allowed to “stand his or her ground and meet force with force.” It also presumes anyone who uses deadly force in self-defense acted reasonably and is usually immune from arrest and criminal prosecution.
Markus says the “shoot first” law “is taking our whole justice system out of the process. Once you chip away at a jury’s right to do its job, I get nervous, and I think most lawyers do.”
Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer
Contact a law firm and seek legal advice from a criminal defense attorney if you have been involved in a stand-your-ground incident. Many attorneys provide free consultations to learn more about your case. For additional information on this area of law, see our civil rights overview, as well as content on criminal law and legal defense.
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