Under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law”, Discretion is Still the Best Policy

July 27, 2010

When I was growing up and at times a bit too prone to physical confrontations, my father advised me that while I should never run away from a fight, I should walk away whenever possible. Prior to July 1,2006, and contrary to the first part of my Dad’s advice, the law in Florida required people to both run AND walk away from potential physical confrontations, unless threatened in their own homes. Even when faced with potential deadly force, Florida Law required people to flee from the danger, unless, by fleeing, the danger would be increased.

All that changed effective July1, 2005. On that date, Florida Statute 776.013(3) took effect, which states:

“A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity, and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has NO duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

This very defense was raised very recently in a trial in Pinellas County involving the stabbing death of a high school girl by one of her classmates. The dispute apparently arose over their competing affections for the same boyfriend. A confrontation occurred in a Pinellas Park street, where the accused attacked the victim with a concealed knife she carried with her to the confrontation.

At trial, her attorneys asserted that the “stand your ground” statute provided her with a strong self-defense argument and possibly complete immunity from prosecution as a matter of law. Unfortunately for the defendant, the State obtained numerous threatening messages sent to the victim by the defendant for many months prior to the stabbing. As a result, the jurors were not convinced that the victim was in fact the aggressor to the extent that the defendant had the right to use deadly force to quell any perceived threat.

This outcome was not surprising, given the facts presented at trial. While there may be circumstances where a person is given no choice but to stand and fight, even with deadly force, common sense still dictates that if safe retreat is possible, it should be taken. Escalating a confrontation with the use of force will most often result in a bad outcome to the person who employs it and to any bystanders.

In addition, as borne out in the Pinellas Park trial, there had better not be any evidence available to establish previous animosity on the part of the person claiming to have been merely “standing their ground”.

Should you or any loved one be placed in such a situation, you must employ an experienced attorney to guide the case through the legal system and present your case in the proper context which may have justified the use of force against an attacker. As a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney who has handled many cases involving these issues, through trial if necessary, I can provide legal assistance to take the best advantage of the protedctions the “stand your ground” law provides.

However, while Florida Law now permits a person to basically “fight fire with fire”, I can only advise that, in most circumstances and unless a life is on the line, my Dad’s advice is still the best policy.