Use of Non-Deadly Force
Under Section 776.012, Florida Statutes, a person is justified in the use of non-deadly force in self-defense where the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against such other’s imminent use of unlawful force. There is no duty to retreat. If the defendant is in his or her home or vehicle, then, under Section 776.013, Florida Statutes, the law will presume that the defendant had a reasonable fear of imminent death or bodily harm if the alleged victim unlawfully entered or remained or attempted to remove another person against their will. A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter another’s home or vehicle is furthermore presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.
Use of Deadly Force
There are two primary statutes in Florida outlining when the use of deadly force is justified so as to avoid criminal liability. Under Section 776.012, Florida Statutes (Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law), a person is justified in using deadly force (and does not have a duty to retreat) if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony or to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another. Under Section 782.02, Florida Statutes, the use of deadly force is further justified when a person is resisting any attempt to murder such person or to commit any felony upon him or her or upon or in any dwelling house in which the person is located.
If the defendant is in his or her home or vehicle, then, under Section 776.013, Florida Statutes, the law will presume that the defendant had a reasonable fear of imminent death or bodily harm if the alleged victim unlawfully entered or remained or attempted to remove another person against their will. A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter another’s home or vehicle is furthermore presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.
The presumption of reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm does not apply if: (a) the person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in the home or vehicle, or (b) the person or persons sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used, or (c) the person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the home or vehicle to further an unlawful activity, or (d) the person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer, who enters or attempts to enter the home or vehicle in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer properly identified his or herself (or the person reasonably should have known that it was a police officer).
If a defendant was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked where he or she was allowed to be, then the defendant has no duty of retreat and has a right to use force, or even deadly force, if the defendant (under those circumstances) reasonably believed that his or her use of force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. This is the key provision of Florida’s “Stand your Ground” law.
How Juries Evaluate Self-Defense Claims
In determining whether the use of deadly force or non-deadly force was warranted, a jury will examine what a reasonable person would have done under the circumstances appearing to the defendant at the time of the incident. This inquiry into what a “reasonable person” would have done is known as an “objective standard.”
Where the defendant in a Florida criminal case presents any evidence of self-defense, the State must overcome the claim of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.
Evidence Required to Raise a Self-Defense Claim
The defendant is entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense in Florida when there is any evidence to support the claim. This is a low standard and even a “scintilla” of evidence will be sufficient, even if the self-defense theory is extremely weak or improbable. Self-defense may even be inferred from the State’s evidence without the Defendant or a defense witness ever taking the stand.
Where there is no evidence of self-defense, the jury will not be given a self-defense instruction and the defendant will be limited in closing argument to challenging the State’s evidence and denying that the incident took place (assuming no other defenses were raised). Thus, if a Defendant testifies during trial, and states that he acted out of anger after the alleged victim walked away, he or she would not likely be entitled to a self-defense instruction. Florida courts have also denied self-defense instructions where the claim of self-defense is inconsistent with the defense theory of the case, such as where an alibi defense is raised.
There are other circumstances that may cause the denial of a self-defense instruction under Florida law. Under Section 776.041, Florida Statutes, self-defense is not available to a person who is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of a forcible felony.Section 776.08, Florida Statutes, defines “forcible felony” to include treason, murder, manslaughter, sexual battery, carjacking, home invasion robbery, burglary, robbery, arson, kidnapping, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, stalking, use of bombs, aircraft piracy, and any other felony that involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.
In addition to the exception for forcible felonies, self-defense is not available where the evidence establishes that the defendant initially provoked violence against himself. See Section 776.041, Florida Statutes. To claim self-defense in this scenario, the accused must present sufficient evidence that the force used by the alleged victim was so great that the accused reasonably believed that he or she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she had exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant.
Alternatively, the person who provokes the initial attack may nonetheless claim self-defense if: (1) in good faith, he or she withdrew from physical contact, (2) clearly indicated to the other person that he or she desired to withdraw and terminate the use of force, and (3) despite the communication and withdrawal, the other person continued or resumed the use of force.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense involving a violence act in Jacksonville, Duval County, Clay County, or St. Johns County, Florida, and believe that you were acting in self-defense, contact an experienced Jacksonville Criminal Defense lawyer to discuss your case. Self-defense is one of the most versatile and complex of Florida affirmative defenses, and a viable defense may be available in your case to contest the charges or have them dismissed.