Self-defense laws in the US typically justify a person’s use of lethal force in public in situations where lethal force was necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm to themselves or another person. Traditionally, these laws have been clear that taking human life is not necessary, and is therefore not justified, if the person could have avoided using lethal violence by retreating, or simply stepping away from a confrontation. A person does not have a duty to retreat from a conflict before using force in their home, however (known as the Castle Doctrine).1
Stand your ground laws upend centuries of legal tradition, allowing a person to use deadly force in self-defense in public, even if that force can be safely avoided by retreating or when nonlethal force would suffice.
Florida has enacted a particularly egregious stand your ground law which allows people to use deadly force without retreating in public, even in situations where a person is not in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.2 Florida’s statute also makes it harder to properly investigate cases where a stand your ground defense is being used by limiting law enforcement’s ability to arrest someone who claims to have acted in self defense.3
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- American Bar Association, “National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws: Report and Recommendations,” (September 2015): 1.
- Fla. Stat. §§ 776.012(b); 776.031(b); 776.032(2). Under Florida law, a person is justified in using deadly force “if he or she reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony,” which is defined to include, among other things, burglary of an unoccupied motor vehicle (or other “conveyance”). Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 776.031(2); 810.02(4).
- Fla. Stat. § 776.032(2).