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Defining Self Defense

A highly publicized death penalty case is headed to the Florida Supreme Court, with both sides asking the court to reverse portions of the trial judge’s decision. According to reports, the case stems from a 2008 incident where the defendant allegedly asserts that he was attacked by two men and killed them both in self defense. Prosecutors reportedly argued that the two men were asleep during the attack, in opposition to the self defense claim. A jury convicted the defendant, who was sentenced to death. The judge eventually threw out the death penalty, resulting in an appeal before the state Supreme Court.

Self defense claims are fairly common in the realm of criminal defense. It is an affirmative defense, where the defendant admits to some action, but asserts a reasonable justification for it. While it may seem like a cut and dry theory, convincing a fact finder of self defense can prove quite challenging. This is why the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney is extremely important to the success of a self defense claim.

What is Self Defense?

Florida law defines self defense as “justifiable use of force.” It allows an individual to use force when protecting himself, his property or another individual from a threat of force. Unlike other states, Florida does not require an attempted retreat before the use of self defense. This is the underlying basis for the state’s highly controversial Stand Your Ground Law. Passed in 2005, this legislation established that a person has the right to meet force with force, with no obligation to first attempt a retreat. Deadly force is even allowed in these specific situations:

  • A reasonable belief that force is necessary for the prevention of imminent death, great bodily harm or the commission of a forcible felony, such as robbery; and
  • An individual is using it to protect against an unlawful and forceful entry into a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle.

Deadly force is not justified in the following situations:

  • Against a lawful resident or owner of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle (except under limited circumstances);
  • A parent who enters to retrieve a child over whom they have custody;
  • The threatened individual is engaged in unlawful activity and/or using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle in furtherance of some illegal activity; or
  • Against a law enforcement officer who is engaged in a legal duty.

When considering a self defense claim, the fact finder uses an objective standard to determine whether the defense applies. This means that the judge or jury considers whether a reasonable person would have acted in a similar manner under the same circumstances. When the claim is raised, it is up to the state to overcome beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you are facing criminal charges in Florida and you believe that a self defense claim applies, contact the Miami attorneys Ratzan & Faccidomo, LLC at (305) 330-3905 for a free and confidential consultation. Our experienced professionals can review the details of your case and provide you with knowledgeable guidance regarding your best defense.

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