Florida Law Regarding Stand Your Ground Immunity and People Engaged in Illegal Conduct

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” has been the subject of much public discussion. Many misunderstandings and misconceptions are associated with this statute. If you are someone facing criminal charges and need to present an argument for Stand Your Ground immunity, make sure you have an experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense lawyer advocating for you.

One of the more common illustrations of a Stand Your Ground scenario involves an innocent bystander who is abruptly confronted and/or attacked. In reality, Stand Your Ground immunity may apply to a variety of circumstances, even if you were guilty of a criminal violation at the time.

A Manatee County attempted manslaughter case is a good example. R.J., a man who newspaper reports identified as a member of a Bradenton street gang, was part of a 2018 altercation involving a rival gang at a local bar. The bar fight spilled into the parking lot and, eventually, shots were fired. A member of a rival gang was dead, allegedly killed by R.J.’s ex-stepfather.

According to the state’s probable cause affidavits, after the shooting started, members of the rival gang began fleeing, but R.J. “turned and shot” a rival in the leg.

The state brought a charge of attempted manslaughter. R.J. sought to use the Stand Your Ground law in his defense. Although R.J. was carrying a concealed weapon without a proper license, he asserted that he was not the aggressor and that, when he shot the rival, “[h]e had no ability to retreat or to make clear that he wanted to terminate the encounter” where “the entire episode, which started the exchange of gunfire, began and ended in seconds.”

The state argued that R.J.’s admission — that he was carrying a concealed weapon illegally — was all the judge needed to know and that alone was enough to deny Stand Your Ground immunity. The trial court agreed with the prosecutor and refused to allow the defense, declaring that the accused had failed to establish that he “was not engaged in criminal activity when he discharged his firearm.”

Stand Your Ground Immunity and the Duty to Retreat

The court of appeal, however, reversed that decision, ruling that the trial judge had employed an incorrect legal standard when he made his ruling. A person’s criminal conduct does not automatically bar them from being entitled to Stand Your Ground immunity. The law says that a person engaged in unlawful conduct “has a duty to retreat and must use all reasonable means in his power, consistent with his own safety, before his use of deadly force will be justified under the Stand Your Ground law.”

In R.J.’s case, his Stand Your Ground defense motion expressly asserted that the circumstances that unfolded gave him no option to retreat “or otherwise terminate the encounter before resorting to deadly force.” That allegation was enough to trigger a right to an evidentiary hearing and allow the accused to continue his pursuit of Stand Your Ground immunity.

If you or a loved one has been charged with — or is under investigation for — a crime of violence, Stand Your Ground immunity may be an essential component of your defense strategy. The knowledgeable Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. have the experience and skill set necessary to deploy this (and other defense strategies and options) to your maximum benefit. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation.

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