Many people who find themselves accused of violent criminal offenses in Florida are not guilty of any crime. The legal code is clear in the fact that those who seek to protect themselves, their family or other people nearby from threats of harm, do not violate the law, in most cases.
Confusion about self-defense rights in Florida can lead people to make bad choices when defending themselves or dealing with law enforcement after an altercation. The more you know about your right to defend yourself, the more prepared you will be if the situation ever arises and you find yourself talking to police afterward.
You can’t instigate a fight and then claim self-defense
Physical altercations can break out due to the words or actions of people in public places or in private settings. Whether you are at a bar watching your team and get into an argument with someone supporting the opposition or you are at home and your spouse becomes aggressive, claiming you acted in self-defense is only a viable option if you are not responsible for the fight becoming physical.
Both police and the courts will look at your body language, words and physical actions at the beginning of the interaction. They will consider your version of events, as well as that of the other person and any witnesses. Security camera or cellphone footage can also play a role. Everything from perspective to timing can influence how an altercation seems to someone else.
If the evidence indicates that you intentionally provoked the other party or threatened them, you may not be able to claim self-defense, even if they take the first swing or break the physical contact barrier before you do.
Know the difference between self-defense and standing your ground
One of the biggest sources of confusion for Florida residents regarding their right to defend themselves relates to the law commonly known as the stand-your-ground law. Basically, under Florida law, individuals do not have the obligation to retreat from a threat before they attempt to defend themselves with deadly force or threaten to use deadly force to dissuade an attacker.
In many other states, an individual must demonstrate that they attempted to leave the situation or were unable to do so, particularly if they use deadly force to defend themselves. In Florida, an individual need only demonstrate that they had a credible fear for their safety to stand their ground and take action against another party when armed with a legal weapon, such as a registered firearm.
Self-defense claims can involve weapons, but they can also involve physical altercations such as fistfights. Those invoking the stand-your-ground law typically do so because they used or threatened to use a deadly weapon in a situation that they perceived as dangerous.
If you find yourself facing criminal charges because you tried to defend yourself or someone else, speaking with an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney can help you learn more about your rights.