What Conditions must be present for a justifiable use of deadly force under Florida Law?
Florida Statute Chapter 776 is titled, “Justifiable Use of Force.” Section 776.012(a) discusses the use of force and 776.012(b) discusses the use of deadly force. In order to use a justification defense, a person must admit that they did the act. They cannot claim that they did not commit the act and also say, but if I had, it would be justified. According to Florida’s Supreme Court, “A justification claim is both a confession of committing a crime and an avoidance of being punished for the crime.” (Hopson v. State, 127 Fla. 243 (Fla 1936).
Once any evidence at all is offered to support a Defendant’s justification claim, a court is required to instruct the jury that they must consider the Defendant’s justification claim and a prosecutor is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s actions were not justified.
In relevant part, Florida’s Standard Jury Instruction on the Justified Use of Deadly Force reads:
It is a defense to the crime[s] of (name[s] of relevant crime[s], including lesser-included offenses) if the actions of (defendant) constituted the justifiable [use] [or] [threatened use] of deadly force.
“Deadly force” means force likely to cause death or great bodily harm. “Great bodily harm” means great as distinguished from slight, trivial, minor, or moderate harm, and as such does not include mere bruises.
(Defendant) was justified in [using] [or] [threatening to use] deadly force if [he] [she] reasonably believed that such [force] [or] [threat of force] was necessary to prevent [imminent death or great bodily harm to [himself] [herself] [or] [another] [or] [the imminent commission of (applicable forcible felony listed in § 776.08, Fla. Stat.) against [himself] [herself] [or another]]. If (defendant) was not otherwise engaged in criminal activity and was in a place [he] [she] had a right to be, then [he] [she] had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand [his] [her] ground.
These instructions tell us that a Defendant must show that:
- He or she reasonably believed that the force they used was necessary; and
- The threat or force they were defending against was imminent.
- The Defendant could stand their ground if they were not engaged in criminal activity and were in a place thy had a right to be.
To understand these requirements, we must understand what is meant by reasonable and what is meant by imminent.
To determine what is reasonable, a jury will decide if they would have taken the same or similar actions to defend themselves if under the same circumstances. Under the law, when evaluating the “reasonable person standard” a jury will look at the facts as known to the defendant at the time the defendant acted and will determine whether the force used was something a reasonable person would have done.
The jury will also determine whether or not the defendant was correct in acting to defend themselves against another’s imminent use of force. Florida Courts have said that the word “imminent” means an act that is about to happen immediately. Gaffney v. State, 742 So. 2d 358 (Fla. 2d DCA 1999). It is something that will happen within the next few seconds.