Florida's Stand Your Ground law is about to be tested.
This past weekend, a former Broward Sheriff's Deputy, his fiance, his mother, and his small children, were enjoying ice cream at a Miami Lakes Haagan-Daz store. While seated there with his family, an aggressive homeless man approached his table and began asking for money. The former deputy refused to give the man any money. This is when the man became angry.
Witness accounts are consistent. It appears that the homeless man threatened the deputy and his family, and even physically assaulted the deputy's mother. When the homeless man began threatening the children, the deputy pulled out his carry piece (he has a valid Florida concealed weapon permit) and shot the homeless man, seriously wounding him but not killing him.
While the State Attorney has not yet reviewed the case, the police have - so far - decided not to charge the former deputy with a crime.
That is because Florida's Stand Your Ground law permits you to use force, even lethal force, if you are in a place where you have a right to be (such as a public place) and you use the lethal force under the reasonable belief that such force is necessary to protect your life, or the lives of others.
It is undisputed that the homeless man was unarmed. But that doesn't always make the difference in a case such as this one. The law depends on one's reasonable belief that lethal force is necessary. If the homeless man was acting unstable or was putting the children in danger, the deputy may have been justified in using lethal force if he reasonably believed that he need to use that force to protect himself and his children.
You may also use lethal force to prevent the commission of a forcible felony, such as a kidnapping, if the deputy thought that the homeless man was going to try and take the children. Some witness accounts support this theory.
The bottom line is that Florida recognizes a citizen's right to protect themself and those around them. Stand Your Ground is intended to be a bar to prosecution, not just a trial defense. That means that if the facts support a lawful shooting under Stand Your Ground, you cannot be arrested and charged.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami-Dade and Broward.