Self Defense in Florida

This article was first published March 1st, 2012. Some of the laws may have changed since this that date.

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Three stab wounds at an Orlando bar left one man dead and another facing trial for killing him. After being escorted to the back door of The Lodge, Craig Sandhaus was restrained by a bouncer while another made threatening movements toward Sandhaus’ brother.

In great fear for his brother’s life, Sandhaus pulled out a knife he said he regularly carried with him and stabbed Torres, the bouncer threatening his brother, three times. The fatal wound passed his ribs, reaching Torres’ heart.

“The only thing I could possibly do was stab Torres,” Sandhaus testified.

His Orlando criminal defense attorney asserted that Sandhaus should be protected from prosecution in the stabbing death by Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute. The stabbing was an act of self-defense and defense of Sandhaus’ brother.

Initially, the judge did not agree. It’s now up to the jury to determine whether he is guilty of a Florida felony or if he was justified in using deadly force against the bouncer.

And of course, not too long after this incident, we had the nationally followed Zimmerman-Martin case.

Florida’s Stand Your Ground Statute

In 2005, then Governor Jeb Bush signed into law one of the most comprehensive laws related to a citizen’s right to self defense, the Stand Your Ground statute. The new law meant that, if attacked or in fear of being attacked, you no longer had to walk away to avoid criminal prosecution or civil liability.

Instead of being forced to retreat, Floridians now have the right to stand their ground and protect themselves, using deadly force if necessary. “‘Most people would rather be judged by 12 than carried by six,’ referring to juries and pallbearers,” summed the spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers about the right to defend one’s self. The Florida Legislature agreed.

The Florida self-defense law specifically protects individuals in their:

  • Home
  • Vehicle
  • Any other place you legally have the right to be

The use of force, including deadly force, is allowed if there is a reasonable fear that doing so is needed to prevent serious injury or death. Deadly force is, according to Florida statute, “any force that is likely to cause death or great bodily harm.”

Acting in self defense is not limited to protecting only yourself. Preventing serious injury to, or the death of, another person may still be considered self defense under the Stand Your Ground law.

Florida self defense law presumes that it is reasonable to defend yourself with deadly force if your home or car is broken into while you are inside. However, if the attacker is not inside your home but merely around it such as climbing over a fence to your yard, whether self defense justifies the use of deadly force is not as clear cut.

What is Not Self Defense in Florida

Outside of your home or your car, if you are attacked in a public place or another place that you have the right to be, you do not have a duty to retreat. Common places that this part of the Stand Your Ground law applies may be a parking lot, a shopping center or a sidewalk, among many others.

If you are somewhere you should not be, the Stand Your Ground statute may not protect you even if you believe you are acting in self defense. For example, if you’re in a neighbor’s yard without his or her permission, you are not legally there and may not be able to assert self defense as a reason for a use of force.

In addition, you must not be involved in an unlawful activity. For example, if you use a concealed weapon to defend yourself but do not have a permit to carry the concealed weapon in public, you may not be able to assert self defense.

In Sandhaus’ case, the judge initially decided that the knife used in the stabbing was not a common pocket knife and should not have been in Sandhaus’ possession at the bar. This unlawful act barred Sandhaus from asserting the protections of the Stand Your Ground statute. But, Sandhaus still has the opportunity to assert self defense at trial, leaving the decision on whether he was justified in using force up to the jury.

Choosing Not to Retreat and Fighting For Your Rights

The Stand Your Ground statute provides immunity from criminal prosecution and civil liability. If you act in self defense, you should not be charged with a crime for injuries you may have caused defending yourself, another or even your property.

But, the ins and outs of self defense law in Florida can be quite complex. Even what may seem like a cut-and-dried example of self defense may not be accepted by prosecutors. An Orlando criminal defense lawyer can help you assert your rights under Florida law to protect you from jail for simply protecting yourself and others from serious injury or death.