Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law took effect in 2005, making for a lot of headlines at the time. Some people feared that it would turn Florida into a modern day Wild West. At the least, the law's detractors believed that too many people might escape punishment for violent crimes by claiming self-defense. Others applauded the law as an expansion of one's right to use deadly force no matter where one feels threatened.
So what exactly is the Stand Your Ground law, and how did it change Florida's existing law on self-defense? At the time it was introduced, the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee summed up the law by stating that it:
". . . permits a person to use force, including deadly force, without fear of criminal prosecution or civil action for damages against a person who unlawfully and forcibly enters the person's dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle. Additionally, the [bill] abrogates the common law duty to retreat when attacked before using force, including deadly force in self-defense or defense of others."
Florida Self-Defense Law Prior to Stand Your Ground
Prior to Stand Your Ground, a person could use only non-deadly force to defend against the imminent use of unlawful non-deadly force. Deadly force was authorized only to defend against imminent deadly force or great bodily harm, or the commission of a forcible felony.
Unless the person was in his home or workplace, he had a duty to retreat prior to using deadly force. In one's home or workplace, the "Castle Doctrine" provided that the person had no duty to retreat prior to using deadly force against an intruder. However, he still needed the reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary to defend against deadly force, great bodily harm, or the commission of a forcible felony.
How Did Stand Your Ground Change Florida Self-Defense Law?
The Stand Your Ground law introduced two conclusive presumptions that favor defendants who are claiming self-defense:
- The presumption that the defendant had a reasonable fear that deadly force was necessary; and
- The presmuption that the intruder intended to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.
These two presumptions protect the defender from civil and criminal prosecution for unlawful use of deadly or non-deadly force in self-defense. Moreover, the defender has no duty to retreat, regardless of where he is attacked, so long as he is in a place where he is lawfully entitled to be when the danger occurs.
In passing the Stand Your Ground self-defense law, the Florida Legislature expressed its intent that no person should "be required to needlessly retreat in the face of intrusion or attack." The Stand Your Ground self-defense law effectively expands the "Castle Doctrine" by expanding what is meant by the concept of one's "castle" to include any place where a person is lawfully entitled to be.