Man Punched In The Face

What Conditions Must be Present For a Justifiable Use of Force Under Florida Law?

By David S. Katz

On FaceBook, Larry Benson asked, “what are the 2 conditions of Justifiable Use of Force?”  Our complete answer follows:

What Conditions must be present for a justifiable use of 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  Non-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] of non-deadly force. “Non-deadly” force means force not likely to cause death or great bodily harm.

In defense of person.

(Defendant) was justified in [using] [or] [threatening to use] non-deadly force against (victim) and had no duty to retreat if [he] [she] reasonably believed that such conduct was necessary to defend [himself] [herself] [another] against [(victim’s) imminent use of unlawful force]

Fla. Standard Jury Instructions 3.6(g).

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.

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.

Next week, attorney Danielle Wall will post about the conditions that must be present to justify the use of deadly force.

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