As many people are aware due to some recent high profile cases, Florida has the Stand Your Ground law which provides that the state cannot prosecute a person who used justifiable force under the circumstances. When a defendant properly defended himself with reasonable force under the circumstances, the Stand Your Ground law establishes an immunity for the defendant so that the state cannot move forward with its prosecution of the defendant.
However, the Florida Stand Your Ground law does not apply in certain situations. For instance, a defendant cannot attempt to use the Stand Your Ground immunity when the alleged victim is a police officer engaged in the performance of his/her official duties as long as the officer either identifies him/herself as a police officer or it is clear from the circumstances that the defendant knew he/she was an officer.
In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer was responding to a robbery call at night. The police officer was led to the defendant’s residence and observed the defendant outside. The officer claimed to have identified himself, pulled out his gun and pointed the gun and his flashlight at the defendant. The defendant shot the police officer in response.
The defendant was arrested and charged with aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer. The criminal defense lawyer asserted the Florida Stand Your Ground immunity and claimed that he did not know the victim was a police officer and shot him to defend himself. The court did not allow the defendant to assert that claim. Since the court found that the victim was a police officer, he was engaged in his official duties by responding to a robbery call and he identified himself as a police officer, the Stand Your Ground immunity was unavailable to the defendant. If the police officer did not identify himself or was off duty or it was otherwise unclear he was a police officer, the defendant would be able to attempt a Stand Your Ground claim. However, in this case, the court found that the police officer met the conditions of the exception outlined above so Stand Your Ground could not apply.
The defendant was still able to use a self defense claim at trial. He could argue he did not know the victim was a police officer and thought someone in the dark was going to shoot or attack him so he fired first. The key difference is that a self defense claim like that would be decided by a jury. If the jury does not buy that defense, the defendant may very well get convicted of the crime. The Stand Your Ground claim is an immunity asserted with a motion to the judge. If the judge grants the motion, the case is over and never gets to an unpredictable jury.