Florida’s self defense laws have been in the national news a few times over the past several years. Many misconceptions have arisen as a result, and the laws themselves are not as clear cut as some may believe them to be. Here’s what you need to know about the laws of self defense in Florida.
Florida’s self defense laws are covered in chapter 776 of the Florida statutes. In Florida, self defense is an affirmative defense against several criminal charges. Florida law holds that an individual may use or threaten to use a non-deadly force against another person if they can show that they
- reasonably believed
- that the force was necessary
- to defend himself against unlawful force from another.
In some jurisdictions, an individual would have to try to escape the situation in order to assert the defense of self defense. However, in 2005, the Florida legislature modified the self defense statute to state that a person may “stand your ground” and does not have a duty to retreat if he or she threatens to use force in self defense or carries out that use of force.
In the case of deadly force, Florida statute allows the affirmative defense of self defense in three different situations:
- imminent death,
- great bodily harm,
- to prevent the imminent commission of a violent felony.
The individual claiming to have acted in self defense must again prove that he or she was reasonable in the belief that deadly force was necessary in that situation.
As in the statute covering non-deadly force, Florida law allows for a person to “stand your ground” if he or she is not committing a crime themselves, and in a place where they have a right to be.
Claiming Self Defense In Court
A defendant charged with a crime may raise the issue of self defense in a pretrial hearing or at the trial itself. The trial judge will rule on the issue after it is raised and determine if the defendant’s actions were justifiable as self defense. If the judge finds that they were justifiable, he or she is obligated to dismiss the charges. However, if the judge finds that the actions were not justifiable as self defense, the defendant may still make the case for self defense for the jury, and the jury may choose to acquit the defendant based upon the affirmative defense.
Burden Of Proof
Originally the defendant claiming self defense had the burden of proof on the issue, which meant that they must show that the charged conduct was done in self defense. However, the Florida legislature changed the law of self defense in 2017 to shift the burden to the prosecution if the defendant claimed to have acted in self defense. As a result, prosecutors were required to show by “clear and convincing evidence” that the charged conduct was not justified.
In 2019 the issue reached the Florida Supreme Court, and justices there unanimously agreed that the changes two years before only applied to immunity hearings held after the statute was signed into law, disallowing cases that were then pending to have a new hearing with the burden of proving that the charged conduct was unjustified.