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Understanding Florida’s Controversial “Stand Your Ground” Laws

In light of upcoming proposed changes to Florida’s 10-year-old “stand your ground” law, it behooves us to review the components of this controversial law, what it means and how it is applied in the criminal defense context. As practitioners of criminal law, the “stand your ground” defense is one most often invoked in the home invasion context, specifically when a homeowner opts to use deadly force to protect his home and/or property.

It differs, however, from other states’ self-defense laws in that there is no duty to retreat before resorting to deadly force – prompting some to question whether the law works to create a fatal situation that may have otherwise resulted in a theft or robbery. Nonetheless, the Florida Legislature is gearing up to consider the adoption of several amendments to the law, including a lower evidentiary threshold at the preliminary hearing phase.

“Stand Your Ground” Basics

There are a number of criminal defenses on the books in Florida, including the widely-known notion of self-defense. In cases involving assault or homicide, a defendant may invoke a self-defense argument if he used injurious or deadly force toward the victim who was actually the original aggressor. In general, self-defense is only available to the extent the defendant felt threatened at the time of the incident – and the use of deadly force is only justifiable when a defendant is likewise faced with the imminent threat of death or severe bodily injury.

Historically, the right to use self-defense was encumbered by a concept known as the “duty to retreat.” Basically, the duty required individuals who were faced with imminent harm to use all reasonably-available measures to diffuse the situation prior to resorting to physical force. In 2005, however, the Legislature codified the state’s self-defense statute and eliminated the duty to retreat, thereby allowing combatants the opportunity to invoke a self-defense argument without having to prove mitigation efforts.

Further, the “stand your ground” laws created an objective presumption that any person enduring a home or vehicle invasion is in reasonable fear of his life and may use deadly force to combat the intruder.

Proposed Updates to the Law

When a defendant is arrested for assault or murder, he or she must attend a pre-trial hearing to ensure there is enough threshold evidence to continue with the case. It is during these hearings that defendants first invoke the self-defense argument, asserting that the use of force was justifiable given the circumstances of the incident in question. Under the language of proposed Senate Bill 0344, prosecutors would be required to bear the burden of proving why a defendant is not entitled to use the “stand your ground” defense. In earlier versions of the bill, prosecutors were made to meet a ‘reasonable doubt’ threshold in order to defeat a defendant’s self-defense argument.

However, recent amendments have reduced this standard to require prosecutors to show by ‘clear and convincing’ evidence that the defendant should not be permitted to invoke a “stand your ground” defense. Obviously, state attorneys have balked at the changes, remarking that they will essential require them to put on two trials: one at the preliminary stage and one at the fact-finding stage. On the other hand, proponents of the changes applaud the greater protections offered to defendants facing assault or murder charges, as the availability of the “stand your ground” defense will likely be more widespread.

Contact Our Experienced Bradenton Criminal Defense Attorneys Right Away!

If you are facing recent criminal charges and would like to discuss your options, please do not hesitate to contact the Fowler Law Group today: 941-404-8909.

In light of upcoming proposed changes to Florida’s 10-year-old “stand your ground” law, it behooves us to review the components of this controversial law, what it means and how it is applied in the criminal defense context. As practitioners of criminal law, the “stand your ground” defense is one most often invoked in the home invasion context, specifically when a homeowner opts to use deadly force to protect his home and/or property.

It differs, however, from other states’ self-defense laws in that there is no duty to retreat before resorting to deadly force – prompting some to question whether the law works to create a fatal situation that may have otherwise resulted in a theft or robbery. Nonetheless, the Florida Legislature is gearing up to consider the adoption of several amendments to the law, including a lower evidentiary threshold at the preliminary hearing phase.

“Stand Your Ground” Basics

There are a number of criminal defenses on the books in Florida, including the widely-known notion of self-defense. In cases involving assault or homicide, a defendant may invoke a self-defense argument if he used injurious or deadly force toward the victim who was actually the original aggressor. In general, self-defense is only available to the extent the defendant felt threatened at the time of the incident – and the use of deadly force is only justifiable when a defendant is likewise faced with the imminent threat of death or severe bodily injury.

Historically, the right to use self-defense was encumbered by a concept known as the “duty to retreat.” Basically, the duty required individuals who were faced with imminent harm to use all reasonably-available measures to diffuse the situation prior to resorting to physical force. In 2005, however, the Legislature codified the state’s self-defense statute and eliminated the duty to retreat, thereby allowing combatants the opportunity to invoke a self-defense argument without having to prove mitigation efforts.

Further, the “stand your ground” laws created an objective presumption that any person enduring a home or vehicle invasion is in reasonable fear of his life and may use deadly force to combat the intruder.

Proposed Updates to the Law

When a defendant is arrested for assault or murder, he or she must attend a pre-trial hearing to ensure there is enough threshold evidence to continue with the case. It is during these hearings that defendants first invoke the self-defense argument, asserting that the use of force was justifiable given the circumstances of the incident in question. Under the language of proposed Senate Bill 0344, prosecutors would be required to bear the burden of proving why a defendant is not entitled to use the “stand your ground” defense. In earlier versions of the bill, prosecutors were made to meet a ‘reasonable doubt’ threshold in order to defeat a defendant’s self-defense argument.

However, recent amendments have reduced this standard to require prosecutors to show by ‘clear and convincing’ evidence that the defendant should not be permitted to invoke a “stand your ground” defense. Obviously, state attorneys have balked at the changes, remarking that they will essential require them to put on two trials: one at the preliminary stage and one at the fact-finding stage. On the other hand, proponents of the changes applaud the greater protections offered to defendants facing assault or murder charges, as the availability of the “stand your ground” defense will likely be more widespread.

Contact Our Experienced Bradenton Criminal Defense Attorneys Right Away!

If you are facing recent criminal charges and would like to discuss your options, please do not hesitate to contact the Fowler Law Group today: 941-404-8909.

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