There are situations in which it is justifiable to use non-deadly force to defend yourself or another person against harm. This type of self-defense, or defense of another, is distinguishable from the justifiable use of deadly force in that the force or threat of force exerted upon you is not sufficient enough to warrant your use of lethal self-defense.
You need to know which situations call for non-deadly force only. If you escalate your force to deadly force, you can be charged with a serious crime.
Florida’s jury instruction on the justifiable use of non-deadly force defines “non-deadly” force as that which is “not likely to cause death or great bodily harm.”
Like the use of deadly force, the user of the non-deadly force must reasonably believe that non-deadly force was necessary. If a finder of fact - a jury - finds that the force was not necessary, the accused can be found guilty of the charged offense.
The defendant in a criminal prosecution must not only have a reasonable belief that the use of force was necessary, the defendant must also show that the force or threat of force by the victim must have appeared ready to take place.
In other words, if someone threatens force or uses force but then retreats, you cannot legally attack. Self-defense must be employed only in situations where the defender believes that the attacker is about to use force.
A person is also justified in using non-deadly self-defense in Florida when apprehending a trespasser on their land or personal property if the defendant reasonably believed that such force was necessary to stop a trespasser from committing their illegal act.
You cannot shoot and kill a trespasser on your property unless threatened with deadly force. Although you shoot and kill a trespasser if they enter your home, whether or not they threaten deadly force.
Justifiable use of non-deadly force is most commonly a defense to battery.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney representing clients charged with misdemeanors and felonies in Miami-Dade and Broward.