The stand your ground defense can be difficult in domestic violence cases.Stand your ground. 

These three words are embedded in Florida law. On their face, they seem clear and simple. But the “stand your ground” law is not as cut and dried as you might expect—and this can be particularly problematic for victims of domestic violence who shoot their attacker.

What Does the Law Say?

The Florida statute in question is concerned with issues surrounding justifiable homicide—that is, when one person kills another and is justified in doing so. The stand your ground position of the statute reads as follows:

"A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be."

There are some key ideas to keep in mind in that text:

  • The law applies when the person who uses deadly force is in a place they have a right to be.
  • The person is not required to attempt to escape danger before turning to deadly force. (That, after all, is what it mean to “stand your ground.”)

But there is also a phrase that is perhaps not defined clearly enough. That phrase is “reasonably believes.”

Applying Stand Your Ground to Domestic Violence Cases

So what does it mean to “reasonably believe” that you have to use deadly force to prevent yourself from being killed or seriously injured? The truth is Florida courts don’t seem to have a consistent answer to this question—at least when it comes to domestic violence cases. 

According to John Roman, a senior fellow at NORC (formerly known as the National Opinion Research Center) at the University of Chicago, stand your ground laws do little to help victims of domestic violence.

“For a woman who kills a man who’s a stranger, then her odds of that being found to be justified go way up in Stand Your Ground law states. For a woman who kills an intimate partner, Stand Your Ground does very little to help her chances of being found to be acting in self-defense.”

Among the potential reasons for this disparity is the fact that a domestic violence victim may know they are in imminent danger as a result of long experience, but the courts may not recognize the same signs of danger. For example, a woman may recognize that a change in her partner’s tone of voice is a prelude to violence and therefore act to stop him when she hears that change in tone. 

Arguably, she has a reasonable belief that she is in danger, but a court may think that the presence of a weapon or the actual onset of violence is the only way to demonstrate a reasonable belief. This leaves victims of domestic violence in danger of being charged with murder because they took action to save themselves.

Contact an Okaloosa County Domestic Violence Attorney

If you or a loved one have been charged with domestic violence in Okaloosa County, call Flaherty & Merrifield today at (850) 403-6835 for a free consultation.

Brandy Merrifield
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Florida Criminal Defense Attorney