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Deadly force in self-defense: When is it legally justified?

by | Jul 22, 2021 | Assault

Everyone knows that, if someone attacks you, you don’t have to submit to the attack without fighting back. But if your self-defense leaves your attacker dead or severely wounded, you might sometimes face legal consequences, depending on the circumstances. How can you know when the law permits you to use deadly force in your own defense?

Stand Your Ground laws

There are many states in this nation in which victims of attack have a legal duty to retreat before engaging in self-defense. Luckily, Florida is not one of them.

In Florida, citizens benefit from Stand Your Ground laws, which allow them to engage in self-defense whenever and wherever they are threatened, with no duty to flee first.

In other words, it doesn’t matter if you are in your home, at work, or in public at the time of the attack. You can stand your ground and fight back no matter where you are. However, just because you have the right to self-defense does not necessarily mean that you can make use of deadly force. That depends upon the circumstances.

The proportionality requirement

Florida law clarifies that the force you use in your self-defense must be proportional to the threat that the attacker poses. This means that you are never justified in using deadly force to defend against non-deadly force. If someone shoves you or slaps you, and you respond with the use of a deadly weapon, it’s likely that you will be unsuccessful in raising a plea of self-defense in court.

The critical part of Florida’s self-defense statute is the requirement of “reasonable belief” in the need for the use of deadly force. In other words, after using deadly force, the success of your self-defense plea will depend upon how reasonable it was for you to believe that deadly force was necessary in your case.

Courts typically determine the reasonableness of belief by comparing your actions to those of a hypothetical “reasonable person.” They look at the totality of the facts in your case, and decide whether a reasonable person in your position would have acted the way you did.

For example, they would examine your attacker’s words and actions, and decide whether a reasonable person would believe that the attacker was about to cause death or grave bodily injury. If so, then your use of deadly force would be justified.