Florida’s stand your ground law lost some footing this week in civil court as the Florida Supreme Court stated that a defendant who prevails successfully in criminal court under stand your ground immunity cannot use the same immunity to block a civil lawsuit. The Supreme Court stated that the 2017 amendment to the stand your ground law created different burdens of proof for criminal and civil immunity. And that there should be separate immunity determinations to be made and as such the finding in a criminal case cannot be applied to the civil case.
What is the Stand Your Ground Law
Under Florida Statutes 776.013;
A person who is in a dwelling or residence in which the person has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and use or threaten to use:
(a) Nondeadly force against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force; or
(b) Deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.
(2) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using or threatening to use defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:
(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used or threatened was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and
(b) The person who uses or threatens to use defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.
As applied to a criminal defense action, a defendant can raise this defense prior to trial for a judicial determination if they have immunity under the statute. A special hearing called a stand your ground hearing would be held before Judge, and not a jury.
Florida has been the subject of controversy as this defense was used in several notable cases in recent years.
Prior Challenges to this Rule
The Hon. Judge Milton Hirsch, in Miami is the first judge to declare the 2017 revision to the law unconstitutional. The basis for the on the constitutional challenge is that the chain should have been made by the Florida Supreme Court and not legislature. The challenge to the ruling is a victory for prosecutors who felt like defendants were able to escape prosecution.
The Ruling today doesn’t change how applied in Criminal Cases
The Supreme Court ruling today only affects stand your ground in civil cases, it does not change the statute for criminal cases. There has been no further movement on Judge Hirsch’ ruling.