OK, I think it’s time to educate the public on something that they have been so misled on in the media and from the anti-firearms, gun control, and other anti-rights groups.
With the recent shooting in Clearwater, the media and many others seem to be misquoting and misunderstanding Florida’s “Justifiable Use of Force” laws. So maybe a bit of simple education is in order.
First Florida does not have any law titled “Stand Your Ground Law” or “Castle Doctrine” law. Those are names given by the media and anti-self-defense legislators to a very simple, and for a law, easy to read law that governs when you can and cannot use force to defend yourself or another person. It also spells out when you can and cannot use force in defense of property and gives immunity from arrest and prosecution when self-defense is lawful. So, let’s break it down for everyone.
Florida’s self-defense law is Chapter 776 of the Florida statutes and is titled “Justifiable Use of Force”. The first subsection is “776.012 Use or threatened use of force in defense of person.” In subsection (1) it discusses when you can use physical force (but not deadly force) to defend yourself against another using illegal force against you.
“(1) A person is justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly 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. A person who uses or threatens to use force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use such force.”
It says that you can threaten to use (make verbal threats or raise and shake your fist for example) or use physical force against another when that person is using illegal physical force against you. And that you do not have to run away or try and flee before doing so. Pretty simple. But it specifically says you cannot use deadly force to do this. That comes next.
“(2) A person is justified in using or threatening to use 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. A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be.”
Now subsection (2) spells out when you can threaten to use or use deadly force. And this is the whole thing that the recent shooting in Clearwater was viewed under. You can threaten or use deadly force (that includes shooting someone, stabbing them, even running them over with a car if that is all you can do) to stop or prevent someone else from killing you, causing you great bodily harm, or to stop or prevent the commission of a forcible felony. So let’s break those down. Killing you, I think most people understand that one, but what many do not know is that what does it take to kill you? Can being shoved hard to the ground kill you? Yes, it can. If you Google it you will find many examples of it already happening. And the law allows you to prevent this from happening if you think the criminal is about to try this, they do not have to already have tried and failed or try a second time.
While the term “great bodily harm” is not defined in Florida Statute it is in many cases citing’s taken as “face value” meaning that it is talking about an injury that causes great harm. Or more importantly “imminent” great bodily harm, meaning it does not have to already have occurred, you can use force to stop it from happening if you feel it is going to happen unless you do something.
The last part of that subsection is the forcible felony part. This is where the law spells out crimes that it considers so serious that you can use deadly force to stop them if they are being committed against you, or another person (person not property). Those forcible felonies must be committed against a person and are spelled out in:
776.08 Forcible felony.—“Forcible felony” means treason; murder; manslaughter; sexual battery; carjacking; home-invasion robbery; robbery; burglary; arson; kidnapping; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; aggravated stalking; aircraft piracy; unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb; and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.
If you are having any of those crimes committed against you, or another person, you may use the threat of, or actual deadly force to prevent them. The important part to remember is that those crimes must be committed against a person not just a piece of property. So the burglary listing must be a burglary of an occupied house, not an empty one. You can’t shoot someone for stealing property, although in some states you can!
In both subsections, the law states that you have a right to not flee your attacker as long as you are legally where you are allowed to be. That is the entire “stand your ground” part. As you see a very small part of the law itself.
So, in summary, you can use non-deadly force to stop a non-deadly attack on you. TASER’s, pepper-spray, and other devices are non-lethal and can be used. You may use deadly force ONLY if you fear that you are going to be seriously (great) injured or possibly killed by the attack. And you may use it to stop the attack once it has started or even to prevent it from happening, like someone threatening you with a knife and trying to rob you.
Next lesson will be on the law allowing the defense of your home. If you like this and find these lessons helpful, please leave a comment so I know they are useful to people to help them understand the practical application of Florida Law.
NOTE! Of course, I must state that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice, but I have a fair amount of experience teaching this law to police officers (almost 28 years’ worth, and also using the law myself as a LEO for 35 years).