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What is Self-Defense?

by | Jul 9, 2021 | Criminal Charges, Criminal Defense, Criminal Defense Lawyer |

Most individuals have heard about the following principle – a person is able to protect themselves under certain circumstances, even if that action could be considered as a crime in any other circumstance.

In the US legal system, if a person is accused of a violent crime, they can claim self-defense. However, the specific rules are not the same from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, which is why it´s important to know how the Florida Self-Defense Laws can affect you.


What is Self-Defense? 

In Florida, self-defense is an affirmative defense (when the defendant introduces evidence, which could negate criminal liability) used to avoid punishment for an otherwise unlawful act. This means that a self-defense claim acknowledges the fact that there was a violent act, but looks to excuse said act on the grounds that it was reasonably necessary to prevent a second party´s use of unlawful force.


Types of Self-Defense. 

When someone claims self-defense during a trial or pre-trial, one consideration is whether or not the defendant used a “deadly force”. This divides the Self-Defense into two statutes:

  • Self-defense with the use of non-deadly force:  a non-deadly force refers to an act that is not likely to cause death or great bodily harm. A great example is hitting someone. Under section 776.012 (1) of the Florida Statutes, someone is justified to use or threaten to use this kind of defense when they reasonably believe that such action is necessary to defend themselves or a third party against another´s imminent use of unlawful force. There is no duty to retreat.
  • Self-defense with the use of deadly force:  when a person wants to prevent a “forcible felony” such as kidnapping, assault, or murder (among other things), they are able to use or threaten to use deadly force. Also known as “lethal force”, deadly force is the use of force that is likely to cause serious bodily harm, which may even result in death.


When is a Self-Defense claim not valid? 

The presumption of reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm when it comes to dwellings, vehicles, and residences, does not apply in the following circumstances:

  • The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be on the private property where the action is committed.
  • The person against whom force was used was trying to remove their grandchild or child, or they have lawful custody or guardianship of the child.
  • The person claiming self-defense was engaged in criminal activity or was using the property to further criminal activity.
  • The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer, who enters or attempts to enter the property and he or she identifies him/herself.

It is also important to note that a self-defense claim is not available to someone who:

  • Uses a defensive act while engaged in an unlawful activity.
  • Provokes the use or threatens use of force against themselves. There are a couple of exemptions – the first being that they reasonably believe they are facing imminent bodily harm, and the second being that they withdraw from physical contact with the assailant and they indicate their desire to terminate the use of force.


Self-defense law is a complicated area, and every case should be handled differently. This is why if you or someone you know is facing a violent offense charge, you should get in contact with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Russell Spatz has over 40 years of experience and is open to hearing the details of your case. Call  305-442-0200 to schedule a meeting.


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