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What Are the Rules on Self-Defense in Florida?

David Lee Sellers, PA Feb. 28, 2023

Young Sportswoman Exercises Hand Punches During Martial Arts TrainingThe laws in every state in the country acknowledge that people have the right to defend themselves, others, and their property against the threat of harm by another. The degree and circumstances of how those laws apply can vary.   

If you have been arrested for a crime in Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, Crestview, or Milton, Florida, and believe you acted in self-defense, you need to put an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. At David Lee Sellers, PA, an attorney has the knowledge, resources, and practice to fight for your rights. Clients who found themselves claiming self-defense while facing criminal charges have been hiring Attorney David Lee Sellers for more than 30 years, so reach out today. 

What Is Self-Defense? 

Under the law, self-defense is taking defensive action, including the employment of physical force, to protect yourself, someone else, or your interests against the threat of danger perpetrated by someone else. 

If you’re wondering, “What if someone hit me first? Can I defend myself?” the answer is generally yes, in Florida. However, there are rules for when, how, and how much force can be used.   

Self-defense claims can also be questioned in matters of domestic violence because, absent of a restraining order, the aggressor’s presence in the home or other location is usually lawful. Likewise, the defense may not hold up in matters involving child abuse. For example, if you are trying to keep someone who has lawful custody of a child from taking that child from your home because you believe the child is being abused by that person, your claim of self-defense if you use nondeadly or deadly force to stop that person may prohibit the use of this affirmative defense in court.   

When Can Self-Defense Be Used as a Legal Defense in Florida? 

Self-defense is an affirmative defense. What that means is that you can make a case for self-defense while admitting to the prosecution’s evidence that you committed a crime. When using an affirmative defense, you are presenting your own evidence that justifies your actions.   

There are rules for self-defense in Florida. As an affirmative legal defense, self-defense can only be used if it meets specific requirements:  

  • You must provide evidence that proves you were or believed you were in imminent danger when you used force against someone else. However, you cannot make this claim if the person was lawfully in your home or vehicle or if the person is a law enforcement officer attempting a lawful arrest or search.   

  • You must prove the reasonable belief that the threat was real.   

  • The force used to defend must be commensurate with the threat. Use of deadly force when the force was unnecessary would not stand the test of self-defense. For example, shooting someone who slapped you at work is using more force than necessary, rendering your self-defense claim untenable.   

  • You cannot be the person who started the aggression in a self-defense claim. If you started the fight, you can’t claim self-defense if you are criminally charged with injuring that person. However, there is a notable exception under the law. If you were the initial aggressor but then backed down and were then threatened as you were leaving, you may still be able to claim self-defense at trial.   

  • You cannot claim self-defense if your actions occurred during your commission of a felony. For example, you and your friend are manufacturing illegal drugs at your house. You get into an argument, your friend points a gun at you, and you shoot him. You cannot claim self-defense under these circumstances.   

Did I Have a Duty to Retreat Before Defending Myself in Florida? 

There are a handful of states that require people to retreat from imminent danger before taking defensive action. For example, if you are standing on your front porch and someone is standing on the street shouting and waving a knife, then starts to walk up the sidewalk toward you, you would have a duty to walk into the house and lock the door. Only if the aggressor broke down the door would you have the legal right to defend yourself. Florida law does not require a duty to retreat. Moreover, Florida is a stand-your-ground state.   

States with stand-your-ground laws, like Florida, hold that you have the right to protect yourself, someone else, and your property from an imminent threat of harm by someone else, no matter where the confrontation occurs. Other states uphold the castle doctrine, which is specifically defending yourself against an imminent threat in your home and perhaps your vehicle or workplace.   

Consult an Experienced Attorney 

Although self-defense, particularly under Florida’s stand-your-ground law, can be used as an affirmative defense of your otherwise criminal acts, it is not black and white. You stand your best chance by hiring a criminal defense attorney who has successfully represented clients in self-defense claims.   

If you are facing charges in Pensacola, Florida, or any surrounding communities, and believe you acted in self-defense, contact David Lee Sellers, PA, for reliable legal guidance. He has the experience you will need to pursue an affirmative defense. Call now.