Can I Defend Myself Outside My Own Home? The Stand Your Ground Law Explained
The Stand Your Ground Law made headlines in Florida when it came into force on October 1st 2005, but even today many ordinary residents in the state are ignorant of what exactly this allows a person to do when confronted with a potentially violent situation.
The various stand your ground laws and castle doctrine laws in force in different states are often cited when it comes to vigorous discussion of the use of deadly weapons in the U.S. In Florida, the case of the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman and the subsequent dismissal of Zimmerman’s charge in 2013 is an example of just how important an understanding of the law is.
The castle doctrine
Previous to October 2005 it was only possible in Florida to use deadly force or threaten to use deadly force against another person in self-defense if there was no opportunity of safely retreating. In fact, anyone who shot and killed another person away from their own home or while inside a car could be arrested for murder as self-defense was not admissible as a defense.
Basically, this meant that the only places where a lack of retreat allowed the use of deadly force in self-defense was in the home or in a car, where it was assumed that there was no other place to retreat to. This is called the ‘castle doctrine.’
As of 2018, this legal situation is still current in 11 U.S states, including Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. In these states, a person threatened with deadly force must seek to retreat first.
Far more common these days is a ‘stand your ground’ law or, as it is sometimes also referred to, the ‘line in the sand’ law or the ‘no duty to retreat’ law. 26 other states apart from Florida have a similar law. So what does this law allow you to do?
Stand your ground explained
Florida’s stand your ground law allows someone who feels that deadly force is imminent against them, wherever they are, to use deadly force or threaten to use deadly force against the other person, up to and including killing them. This means that even if there is a possibility of retreating safely it is still legal for you to shoot to kill another person if it is thought that the other person is about to harm you.
The law does not allow you to threaten deadly force or use it if you are not legally in the place where the confrontation takes place. Also, if you are involved in an illegal act, you are also exempted from this law. This means that if you were an intruder and were confronted in a building that you had no permission to be in, you could not use the ‘stand your ground’ law as a defense if you shot the person that confronted you. Quite feasibly a caretaker or the owner of the building that you were trespassing in has more right to threaten you than if you had a deadly weapon yourself.
The stand your ground law is not as simple as it may seem. The real possibility is that it may be used as an excuse to shoot first and ask questions later. In any violent confrontation, the exact circumstances are going to be investigated thoroughly and even if you feel that you are justified to do what you did according to Florida’s ‘stand your ground law’, this might not be how law enforcement officers saw it. You might still be arrested for anything from assault right through to manslaughter or murder. You then need a resolute and experienced criminal defense attorney to help defend you against an unjustified charge.
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For over 30 years, Miami criminal defense attorney Albert M. Quirantes has been aggressively and zealously defending the rights of those accused of felony and misdemeanor crimesthroughout South Florida. With his dedicated team, reasonable legal fees, and a well-earned reputation for challenging prosecutors at every turn, he has protected over 8,000 clients during some of the roughest times of their lives.
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