Much has been said lately about the “stand your ground” law. There are some misconceptions that the public has concerning its applicability. Some people believe that the law allows a person to use deadly force in any situation where they are not the aggressor. If they are the victim of a simple battery, they believe that the stand your ground law allows them to use deadly force because they were assaulted first and had no duty to retreat. The law, as written, does not provide for such a general approach to self-defense. There are three criteria that must be met before a person may “stand his or her ground”, not retreat, and employ deadly force in their defense. They include:

  1. You are not engaged in any illegal activity
  2. You have a right to be where you are
  3. The force used, including deadly force, must be to prevent “great bodily harm or death” to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony(emphasis added)

Those “forcible felonies include:

  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Sexual battery
  • Carjacking
  • Home invasion robbery
  • Robbery (armed or strong armed)
  • Burglary (home, commercial, vehicle or vessel)
  • Arson
  • Kidnapping
  • Aggravated Assault
  • Aggravated Battery
  • Aggravated Stalking
  • Aircraft Piracy
  • Treason
  • Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb
  • OR any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual

In essence, a person may use deadly force to stop the commission of an attack that involves “great bodily harm”.  For example a stabbing, a bludgeoning, a beating so severe that bones are broken or severe injury inflicted. The problem arises when the law must interpret the word “prevent”.  If great bodily harm or death is threatened, does the person have to wait for the act to occur or can they defend themselves believing that great bodily harm or death may result if they do not. That is a judgment call that ultimately must be made either by the court in a motion to dismiss based upon the stand your ground law or by a jury when presented with the facts. Generally speaking, a person who commits a simple assault or simple battery against another cannot have the stand your ground law used against them because the force employed does not involve the threat of great bodily harm or death. There is a catch all in the law which states that stand your ground may be relied upon to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. The statute lists 15 felonies which are included but goes on to provide “any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual”.  That leaves much to interpretation. In Florida, a simple battery against a person 65 years of age or older is a felony. Does that mean that a 65-year-old who is pushed in an argument can then “stand his or her ground” and use deadly force to defend themselves?

The courts will have to ultimately interpret on a case-by-case basis the applicability of the stand your ground law. Until such time as we have a clear and unambiguous meaning given to that law, there will be debate, criticism and individual interpretation.

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