Florida self-defense laws provide strong protections for many individuals across the state who have been involved in a violent confrontation and are facing a criminal charge. But the laws are complex. Florida self-defense laws do allow for you to protect yourself, although there are limitations.
Stand your Ground law in Florida is often used in proving self-defense, but each situation is different. Understanding Florida self-defense laws will help you to make critical decisions that have a huge impact on your future and your freedom.
Types of Florida Self-Defense Laws
Did your house get broken into, and you had to protect yourself and your family?
Were you in your vehicle and someone approached and threatened you with grievous bodily harm or death, and you had to act to defend yourself?
These are two examples of circumstances that Florida self-defense laws may serve for your defense. This is what the state calls an affirmative defense. It is used to avoid punishment for an otherwise unlawful act.
Generally speaking, when proving self-defense in court, the claim is intended to excuse you from a violent act that was “reasonably necessary” to stop the other person from an imminent act of unlawful force against you.
Use of Deadly Force
Two Florida self-defense laws contain protections against prosecution for the use of deadly force.
The first is in Section 776.012 of the state statutes, also known as Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Here is what it says:
“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.”
Under Florida Stand Your Ground law, you do not have the duty to retreat. You have the right to stay and defend yourself (or another person(s)). This is the basic tenant of the law, although there are exceptions explained below that you should be aware of if you are facing charges.
The second is Section 782.02 of the state statutes, addressing the justifiable use of deadly force. Here is what it says:
“The use of deadly force is justifiable 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 such person shall be.”
This statute, as well as Florida Stand Your Ground law, allows you to meet force with force, as well as deadly force to prevent the imminent commission of “forcible felonies.” Forcible felonies would include crimes such as burglary, assault, or kidnapping.
Use of Non-Deadly Force
Florida Statute 776.012 also covers non-deadly force, detailing your rights to self-defense. In the statute’s description regarding the justifiable use of non-deadly force, it says:
“A person is justified in using or threatening to use 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.”
Similar to Florida self-defense law covering deadly force, you do not have the duty to retreat prior to threatening to use or using non-deadly force.
Florida Stand Your Ground Law
The Florida Stand Your Ground law is often utilized by criminal defense attorneys to provide their clients with an affirmative defense.
This law offers broader protections than were previously available before its passage. This includes abolishing the general “duty of retreat” to all places where the person is legally present. It also provides the legal justification for the use of deadly or non-deadly force that involves unlawful entry into residences, vehicles, and dwellings.
Additionally, Florida Stand Your Ground law provides potential immunity for violent acts where the use of force detailed in the charge is proven to fall within the scope and protections of the statute.
Exceptions to Stand Your Ground Laws
Stand Your Ground laws do not apply to every situation when someone is claiming self-defense. There are exceptions. This includes when someone:
- Uses defensive force while conducting an illegal act, OR
- Initially provokes the use or threatened use of force against himself or herself
Number two would not be a valid exemption if they reasonably believe they are facing imminent grievous bodily harm – and they have exhausted every means to escape; or if they withdraw from any physical contact with the assailant and clearly show that they have a desire to withdraw and want to stop using force.
- Uses defensive force against a law enforcement officer – and the officer identified himself or herself, or if the individual should have known that it was a law enforcement professional
- Uses defensive force against someone attempting to remove their child or grandchild in actions to possess lawful guardianship or custody
- Uses defensive force against someone who is lawfully present inside the residence, dwelling, or vehicle
Florida self-defense laws are powerful legal tools when claiming self-defense when you are involved in a violent altercation with another person. Although certain situations are exempt from the laws, others are not. You can claim self-defense either at a pre-trial hearing or at a trial.
If you claim self-defense, you may be able to maintain your freedom and stay out of prison.
Proving Self-Defense in Florida
If you have been charged with a violent crime, proving self-defense in Florida would require you and your attorney to show one of these situations occurred:
- You reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary for you to prevent imminent death or grievous bodily harm to yourself or another person; or that the force was necessary to prevent the other person from imminently committing a forceable felony, OR
- You acted according to standards set by Florida self-defense laws regarding the reasonable belief of the necessity of force in defending residences, dwellings, or vehicles
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