Most people are aware of the Florida Stand Your Ground law as it received a lot of notoriety during the George Zimmerman case and other cases in Florida since then. Essentially, the law says that people in Florida are not required to retreat and can use deadly force if he/she reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent the other person from committing an imminent act that is likely to cause death or serious injury to him/herself or another person. It is basically a self defense law that allows a person to use deadly force if the person legitimately thinks the other person is going to do something very bad to him/her. The law provides some procedural benefits to a defendant who can utilize the Stand Your Ground law.
One question is whether police officers can use the Stand Your Ground law like regular people can. In a recent murder case near Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer was charged with murder after shooting someone he claimed he thought had a weapon and was pointing it at him. The police officer was responding to a suspicious person call and saw the suspect walking in a neighborhood with what appeared to be a rifle. He followed the suspect and ultimately told him to drop the alleged rifle. The suspect did not drop it and pointed it at the police officer, according to the officer. The police officer then shot him and killed him.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the charges based on the Florida Stand Your Ground law. The criminal defense attorney argued the police officer reasonably believed the suspect had a weapon and was going to fire it at the officer, and he shot the officer in self defense. The state objected and argued that a police officer does not have the right to assert the Stand Your Ground law because there is a Florida statute that specifically addresses when a police officer may use force when effecting an arrest. Because there is already a statute on this issuing specifically dealing with police officers are arrests, that law applies rather than the Stand Your Ground law which applies to people generally.
The court rejected this argument. First, the court ruled that the police officer was investigating the situation rather than making an arrest so the specific statute dealing with police officers and arrests did not apply. The court went on to say that even if the officer was making an arrest, the police officer could still avail himself of the Florida Stand Your Ground law as it applies to all people, including police officers. The court noted that a court in another Florida district previously ruled differently holding that a police officer making an arrest is not eligible to use the Stand Your Ground law. Therefore, this issue is not settled in Florida. It is not clear how it would be decided in Jacksonville. It is likely that the Florida Supreme Court will have to make the ultimate decision on this issue.
Some might wonder why this is important because the Florida Stand Your Ground law and the law dealing with police use of force are basically the same in that they allow people to use deadly force in self defense if they believe the other person is going to do something that could cause death or serious injury. That is essentially what any self defense law says. However, the Stand Your Ground law is a much better avenue because of the procedural advantages. A defendant that uses the Stand Your Ground law has a hearing in front of the judge in the pretrial portion of the case. The burden is on the state to prove the defendant did not use self defense. The issue is decided by the judge who uses a lower standard than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard juries use when deciding guilt. If the defendant wins, the case is over; the state cannot proceed. If the defendant loses, he/she can still argue the self defense claim at the trial and win if the jury finds in his/her favor. This gives a defendant two shots at winning, and the first shot comes with no burden on the defendant and a lower legal standard. The regular police use of force statute is just a defense the defendant can argue at trial in front of a jury.