Guest Column: Citizen self defense
David B. Shoar, Sheriff
St Johns County, FL
This month I would like to address a sensitive issue and offer some answers to important questions that have been in the national spotlight — a citizen’s right to self-defense.
Specifically, what legal issues apply if you use a gun outside your house, under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law? What does the law say about shooting someone entering your home? Is there a difference in shooting someone trying to enter — as opposed to shooting the entrant, once he is inside?
Every set of circumstances can, and will, be different in the real world; therefore, the determination on “justifiable force” is difficult to assume by guessing what the scenario could be.
The law addresses the justifiable use of force to protect persons — not property; so, utilizing deadly force to protect a television, for example, when there is no presumed fear of “great bodily harm” or “death”, could be legally problematic.
Under the circumstances of an individual forcibly entering a residence, car, or aggressing you on the street; there remains a need to articulate what the individual’s actions were to cause your “presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm”.
While the chain of events will be different, so will each person involved, as well as their perceptions of the incident. For example, the presumptive fear of death or great bodily harm involving a female senior citizen may be quite different than a 6’00” tall, 20 year old, given the same set of circumstances.
The law does address the process of “unlawfully and forcefully entering”, but remember the law is based on a reasonable belief as it relates to your actions.
Following a “use of force” incident, law enforcement will compare and contrast the statements, the evidence, eyewitness accounts of the events, and many times will confer with the State Attorney’s Office before a final ruling on justification is made.
Several years ago, members of the media came to one of our training sessions where we simulated “use of force” situations; one reporter role-played the “law enforcement officer” while an actual officer portrayed an “assailant” holding a knife to a “hostage’s” throat.
After several minutes of negotiating, the assailant made a sudden move — dropping the knife to the floor. The reporter felt the hostage could be safely defended; they fired their weapon at the assailant. It was determined the reporter had made an unlawful “use of force” decision because the threat had ended before the firearm was discharged.
The elapsed time between the sudden movement, the knife dropping and the application of force, was only 2-3 seconds. These confrontational situations are fluid and many factors determine whether a lethal use of force is “lawful” or “unlawful”.
Had the reporter defended the victim while the knife was still a threat, the action may have been justified. The reporter remarked that she had a new found respect for the complexities of these issues.
Regarding a concealed weapons permit; once you have acquired the appropriate training and permit you are allowed to carry a firearm concealed on your person. Feeling comfortable doing so, which is equally important, is another issue and hopefully this limited explanation helps.
The Florida Statute that addresses justifiable use of force is 776.013 and can be found on the internet for further review. I recommend the review of this statute and its exemptions, for anyone who has questions.
Please feel free to contact me by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have any issues regarding law enforcement or public safety, or if you would like to see a particular topic addressed in this monthly column.