Clarifying Stand Your Ground Versus Justifiable Use of Deadly Force

Since the Zimmerman verdict, Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law has been a topic of nationwide discussion.

First and foremost, a majority of people seem to have trouble understanding what Stand Your Ground is. Stand Your Ground did not apply to the Zimmerman case because his attorneys never raised it. Stand Your Ground is a request for pre-trial immunity where a hearing is held before a judge, not a jury, to determine whether the accused reasonably believed that their life was in danger or they were faced with an imminent risk of serious bodily harm and as result was justified in using force.

Such a hearing was never held.

One of the key components of Stand Your Ground is that it applies the Castle Doctrine - the legal concept that you do not have to retreat if attacked in your home or your car - to any place out in the world where you have a legal right to be.

In other words, if faced with danger or violence, you do not have a duty to retreat and you may face force with force if you are in a place where you can legally be. This may be a public place, provided you are not committing a crime or doing anything that would negate your legal ability to be there.

Stand Your Ground, passed by the Florida Legislature in 2005, was never meant to be a trial defense. It is an immunity, meaning that if the defense shows by a preponderance of the evidence that the criteria is applicable to their client’s case, the judge must grant that accused person immunity from criminal and civil prosecution.

Justifiable Use of Deadly Force is the trial defense. That is the defense set forth under Florida law and conveyed to the jury through Florida Jury Instruction 3.6(f), which states:

A person is justified in using deadly force if [he] [she] reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent

1. imminent death or great bodily harm to [himself] [herself] or another, or

2. the imminent commission of (applicable forcible felony) against [himself] [herself] or another.

Furthermore, the jury instruction has a “no duty to retreat” component that states that a person does not have to retreat, or run away, if they are in a place where they have the right to be and are faced with force or the threat of force, and that they can stand their ground and use deadly force if they reasonably believe that such force is necessary to save their life, the life of another, or prevent serious bodily injury.

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