Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law
Florida’s relatively new “Stand Your Ground” law, passed by the legislature in 2005, was intended to give citizens greater protection in exercising self-defense. In a nutshell, the law is a codification of what is commonly known as the “Castle Doctrine.” It establishes a presumption that a criminal who is in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering or intruding into a home or occupied vehicle has the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence. Therefore, a person has the right to use defensive force to defend against the intruder. The “Stand Your Ground” law also removes the “duty to retreat.” In other words, a person is not required to turn their back on the criminal and attempt to run away before defending him or herself. Rather than do everything to avoid a confrontation, a person may stand their ground and defend their abode. A person defending themselves in this manner is immune from both criminal and civil prosecution. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is codified under Florida Statute § 776.013. The text of the statute can be viewed here.
Gregory Stewart of Land O’Lakes took advantage of the protections under the Castle Doctrine one morning this past summer. He noticed his front doorknob being rattled at 5 a.m. Stewart asked the person to leave but the person continued shaking the knob. Stewart took his Smith & Wesson semiautomatic handgun and confronted the young man outside, who appeared to be intoxicated. Although the man was unarmed, he would not leave and when he took three steps toward Stewart, Stewart fired, hitting him in the chest. Pasco County deputies arrested Stewart on the charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. While the “Stand Your Ground” law arguably applies, the prosecutor had an argument that deadly force was not required under these facts. Stewart’s case has since been dropped.
Florida judges across the state have been entering conflicting decisions about the scope and limitations of the “Stand Your Ground” law. These rulings muddy the waters about the laws applicability. Some believe the law gives citizens a false sense of their rights under the law and may use deadly force in defense even when it is not appropriate. The law arguably makes it more likely for a violent encounter to escalate to a deadly one because citizens are more inclined to take the law into their own hands.
In 2007, the Second District Court of Appeals found that the “Stand Your Ground” law specifically did not apply to a situation where the victim is retreating. In contrast, this past August, the First District Court of Appeal held that the “Stand Your Ground” law permits an individual to use deadly force, even when an aggressor is retreating.
Florida courts are also split on how to decide if a person is immune from prosecution under the “Stand Your Ground” law. Some judges require a pretrial hearing to determine the facts of the case and making a finding of whether the defendant acted in self-defense. Others state it is similar to a motion for summary judgment and can only be used if there is no material question of fact.
There is an ongoing debate over Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. If you have any questions about the validity of a self-defense claim in your criminal case, do not hesitate to contact St. Petersburg criminal defense attorneys at the Rooth Law Group today for a free consultation.