As the first state in the nation to enact a “stand your ground” law, Florida has received a lot of attention, both negative and positive. Often, the law is misrepresented or shared in a confusing fashion. Because of its ties to high-profile cases such as those of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the more recent shooting of Markeis McGlockton by Michael Drejka, the Florida Stand Your Ground law is often cast in a negative light. However, this overlooks the true goal of the law.
History of the Florida Stand Your Ground Law
The Florida Stand Your Ground law is based on the “castle doctrine.” The idea is that an individual who is legally occupying a place—their home or car, for instance—has the right to use force if faced by an intruder or a threat in order to protect themselves. It’s an old idea that has been around for over 2000 years, though the term “castle” was added more recently (about 400 years ago). The castle doctrine was part of English law in the 1600s, and when settlers crossed the Atlantic, they brought the idea with them.
In Florida, the Stand Your Ground law was enacted in 2005 after legislators heard of the story of a retiree who shot an intruder. James Workman, 77, who was living in his RV at the time, shot an intruder in the middle of the night in an effort to protect himself and his wife. Though he wasn’t charged, he did face a lot of scrutiny and was constantly worried that he would be sent to jail at any moment. Of course, for someone of Mr. Workman’s age, this was stressful and was having negative impacts on his health.
State legislators felt that Florida’s self-defense laws weren’t doing enough to shield Workman and others like him from the threat of prosecution for what they felt were justifiable actions. Thus, Stand Your Ground was born.
The Goal of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law
Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law aims to protect individuals who discharge a firearm or otherwise harm another individual in their attempt to protect themselves when they believe they are under threat. Under the law, there is no duty to retreat.
Before the law was enacted, when a person was under threat and even afraid for their life, they had to take reasonable measures to remove themselves from the situation. This is called a “duty to retreat.” If the threat didn’t abate after that, then they could use force if necessary to protect themselves.
By removing the duty to retreat, the Florida Stand Your Ground law aims to make it easier for Florida residents to protect themselves and their families. And Florida isn’t alone in protecting residents in this manner—more than half of states have a stand your ground law on the books now.
In addition to being the nation’s first, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is also considered to be one of the more robust thanks to its phrasing. It clearly states there is no duty to retreat and it offers immunity from both civil actions and criminal prosecution to those whose actions fall within the purview of the law. In addition, the burden of proving that Stand Your Ground does not cover an individual’s actions rests on the state and prosecution, rather than on the potential defendant. As of writing, this is unique to Florida’s law. It aims to limit the hardship someone who was just trying to protect themselves may face. Essentially, rather than having to prove in court or in pre-trial motions that their use of force was in line with the Stand Your Ground law, an individual should not be arrested unless the state has enough evidence to prove that the law does not apply. In fact, if a person who claims Stand Your Ground is arrested without enough evidence to prove that the law was not in effect, then law enforcement officials may be liable for the individual’s legal fees.
When Using a Stand Your Ground Defense May Be Appropriate
The Stand Your Ground law has many critics, and as we saw recently with Michael Drejka, they can be both loud and persuasive. Because of the law’s unpopularity in some corners, it is a frequent target and can lead to charges being filed when not appropriate. (Please note, this isn’t a comment of the Drejka case in particular, just a general observation.)
In general, Stand Your Ground should apply in cases where an individual confronts an intruder or threatening individual in their home, vehicle, or business (or another place they have a legal right to occupy). If during the course of attempting to protect themselves, the individual harms or kills the intruder or a threatening individual, no charges should be brought. If local officials choose to bring charges, they must be able to prove that the law doesn’t apply to the situation.
When faced with charges in a potential Stand Your Ground case, the defendant can fight the charge and work with their defense lawyer to illustrate how the law applies.
A Stand Your Ground defense may not be appropriate for every case, however, in cases when it can’t be used, a skilled Tampa defense lawyer will be able to provide an alternate defense, such as claiming self-defense. Ultimately, the best way to determine whether Stand Your Ground may or may not be relevant for your case is to consult with a knowledgeable Tampa Defense Lawyer.
Get Expert Legal Advice As Soon As Possible
If you believe you or a loved one are being charged with a crime that should be covered under Stand Your Ground, seek help from a qualified Tampa defense attorney immediately.
At Mike G. Law, I work fight hard for my clients. I’ll give you the insight you need and help you enact a tough defense. Protect your future, schedule a consultation today.