Defendants charged with crimes such as assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery and even manslaughter can on many occasions avail themselves on the grounds of self-defense or defense of others. If a defendant is charged with a crime that resulted in the death of another person, the justifiable use of deadly force may be a valid defense to a crime or crimes charged.
The use of deadly force is justifiable if a defendant reasonably believed that the force was necessary to prevent his or her imminent death or great bodily harm under certain circumstances. For example, the use of deadly force can be used if the victim (1) attempted to murder the defendant, (2) the victim attempted to commit an aggravated assault or aggravated battery against the defendant or (3) the victim attempted to commit a violent felony upon the defendant in any dwelling, residence, or vehicle occupied by the defendant.
The use of deadly force is not justifiable if the defendant was attempting to commit, committing, or escaping from the commission of a forcible felony. Deadly force is also not justifiable if the defendant initially provoked the use of force against himself or herself, unless the provoking defendant reasonably believed that force asserted by the victim was so great that he or she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. However, the defendant is required to use every reasonable means of escape the danger rather than using deadly force. The defendant is also required to withdraw from physical contact and make a clear indication to the victim that he or she desires to withdraw, however force can be used if the victim continues in a violent course of conduct.
The new "stand your ground law" allows a defendant that was engaged in lawful activity and attacked in place where he or she had a legal right to be, to defend himself or herself with no duty to retreat and meet force with force. A person is allowed to stand their ground only if he or she believes that this course of action was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm, or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. Forcible felonies under Florida law are listed as murder, manslaughter, sexual battery, robbery, burglary, arson, kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, aggravated stalking or any other felony which involves the threat of physical force or violence against any individual. The new law requires a preliminary hearing before a judge who determine if the "stand your ground" law applies and if the case will or will not proceed to trial on that ground.
The law in the State of Florida also allows for the justifiable use of non-deadly force. Non-deadly force can be used if a defendant believed that the conduct was necessary to defend himself, herself or another from the imminent use of unlawful force. Another example when non-deadly force is legal is for protection of personal or real property. For the defense to apply, (1) the victim must have been trespassing on or interfering with the land or personal property of the defendant, (2) the defendant or his immediate family was in possession of the property, and (3) the defendant believed force was necessary to prevent the victim's wrongful behavior.
In all self-defense cases, the reputation and the physical abilities of the victim are important facts to considered. The reputation of the victim, such as being violent and dangerous, as long as these facts are known to the defendant, will be considered in determining whether self-defense is viable. The physical abilities and capabilities of both the victim and the defendant will also be taken into account. Self-defense cases are stronger if the defendant has witnesses or surveillance video to support his or her contention.
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