When is Use of Force Justified?
You are asleep in your home, when suddenly the sound of an intruder jolts you to your feet. You creep through the darkness toward the noise, your mind racing. In one hand you hold your revolver and in the other a heavy trophy. What will you do when you come face to face with the intruder? What action is legally justifiable?
If you have reason to believe that force is required to defend yourself against another person’s use of force against you, the law does not require you to retreat. Deadly force is justified if you believe your life, or someone else’s life is in danger, serious harm is imminent, or a forcible felony is about to occur.
What is a Reasonable Fear?
Back to our scenario:
- As you inch forward through your darkened hallway, the face of a shadowy figure emerges. It is a face you do not recognize. You can assume the individual entered your home unlawfully, with all intentions of committing a crime that likely relies on force. You are probably justified in your use of force in this circumstance.
The Castle Doctrine
The year 2005 saw the unanimous vote in favor of the Castle Doctrine which establishes three key ideas related to home invasions:
- It presumes that someone who illegally enters your home has ill-intent;
- It allows you to “stand your ground;”
- It precludes criminals from suing you for defending your “castle.”
Use of Force Outside the Home
On the other hand, let’s say you are walking down a darkened street when a group of loud men comes toward you from around the corner. They are quite raucous, and you feel your heart racing. What if they jump you? What if they try to rob you? As they come closer, one apparently inebriated man hollers at you to stop hogging the sidewalk and gives you a shove. Are you legally entitled to use force? How about deadly force? The 2005 Castle Doctrine allows people to use lethal force in self-defense even outside the home. But there have been a number of challenges to the Stand Your Ground laws since the infamous Trayvon Martin case. In 2017 Governor Rick Scott signed into law a bill that shifts the burden of proof to prosecutors in these cases. If you feel threatened and use force or deadly force to protect yourself, it will be up to prosecutors to prove otherwise if they want to go after you. As the constitution outlines, you are still innocent until proven guilty.
The court will have to consider what a reasonable person would do in these circumstances. Is your fear justified or not? Was a felony about to occur? Could you have walked on without incident, or did you literally have to defend yourself? In other words, was your fear justified?
If you have been accused of using an unjustified use of force, you can see how complicated the court case can become. If you have questions, contact attorney Deric Zacca to receive experienced legal counsel. Contact him in Fort Lauderdale today for a confidential consultation.