Self-Defense, Defense of Others, and Defense of Property

Self-defense is a common defense for several crimes in Florida, including assault or battery. This defense can be used when a defendant’s otherwise criminal actions were justifiable because the defendant was repelling the victim’s force. It may apply when the defendant was protecting him or herself, another person, or his or her property. If you have been charged with a crime, but were acting in self-defense, a knowledgeable attorney can help you present your defense to the court.

Self-Defense: Non-Deadly Force

A person can use non-deadly force in his or her own defense when he or she reasonably believes that the force is necessary to defend him or herself against another’s imminent use of unlawful force. In Florida, there is no duty to retreat before using or threatening non-deadly force in self-defense.

Self Defense: Deadly Force

Defendants may use deadly force against another person if they reasonably believe that the force is necessary to prevent either:

  • Imminent death or great bodily harm; or
  • The commission of a forcible felony

Forcible felonies include murder, manslaughter, sexual battery, robbery, burglary, arson, kidnapping, carjacking, and other similarly dangerous crimes.

If the incident occurs in the defendant’s dwelling, residence, or vehicle, the court will presume that the defendant had an imminent fear of death or bodily injury, as long as the victim:

  • Unlawfully entered or remained on the property or in the vehicle; or
  • Tried to remove another person against his or her will.
  • There are several exceptions to this presumption, including when:
  • The person against whom force is used has the right to be in the dwelling or vehicle, and there are no domestic violence protective orders or no contact
  • orders in force;
  • The person being removed is a child or grandchild of the victim, or another person over whom the victim had custody;
  • The person using force is engaged in a criminal activity; or
  • The victim is a law enforcement officer performing his or her duties, and the person using force should have known that.

Because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, there is no duty to retreat before using force, including deadly force, when the defendant is attacked in his or her dwelling or vehicle.

Defense of Others

The same rules apply for defense of others as do for self-defense. Thus, if a defendant reasonably believed that force was required to prevent another person’s imminent death or bodily injury, the use of force is legal.

Defense of Property

In Florida, a person may also use force in the defense of property, including land, a home, or a vehicle. Only non-deadly force is permitted in this case. There is no right to use deadly force to protect property alone.

This defense applies if:

  • The victim was trespassing or wrongfully interfering with land or personal property;
  • The defendant or his or her immediate family lawfully possessed the property, or the defendant had a legal obligation to protect the property; and
  • The defendant reasonably believed that the force was necessary to prevent the unlawful behavior.

There is no duty to retreat before using or threatening force in the defense of property.

If you have been charged with assault, battery, or another crime, it is important to have an experienced attorney who understands the available defenses. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for an initial consultation.