The first thing to know is that this question can only be answered on a state-by-state basis. While many states have passed “Stand Your Ground” laws, the precise language of those laws differs. In other states, there's no specific "Stand Your Ground" law on the books, but courts have fashioned a similar rule through case rulings handed down over the years. A minority of states don't recognize the doctrine at all. In this article, we'll discuss the concept of "Stand Your Ground" and its applicability to civil lawsuits for wrongful death and assault and battery.
What is a "Stand Your Ground" Law?
One of the most well-known “Stand Your Ground” law is Florida’s version. Let’s take a look at Florida’s law to understand how these statutes work, and to see what Florida's law in particular has to say about applicability to a civil lawsuit.
The Florida law says that a person who uses or threatens to use force in certain circumstances will be immune from civil lawsuits for the use or threatened use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used or threatened is a law enforcement officer who was acting in the performance of his/her official duties and 1) the officer identified him/herself or 2) the person using or threatening to use force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer.
So, in order to find out if someone will be immune from a civil lawsuit under the Stand Your Ground law, we have to determine if his/her use of force or threatened use of force was permitted under the circumstances.
When Do "Stand Your Ground" Laws Apply?
Florida law lays out several situations where the Stand Your Ground law will apply as a valid defense.
First, To Defend Against Imminent Use Of Unlawful Force. In Florida, Person A is justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly force, against Person B if Person A reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend him/herself (or defend another person) against Person B's imminent use of unlawful force. Importantly, Person A does not have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use this force.
Second, To Prevent Imminent Death Or Great Bodily Harm, Or To Prevent The Imminent Commission Of A Violent Felony. Person A is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force against Person B in Florida if Person A reasonably believes that it is necessary in order to prevent:
- imminent death to Person A or anyone else
- great bodily harm to Person A or anyone else, or
- to prevent Person B from imminently committing a violent felony.
Third, To Defend Against Attack In A Residence Or A Vehicle. If Person A is attacked in his/her residence or vehicle in Florida, Person A has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his/her ground and use or threaten to use force, including deadly force, if Person A reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend against Person B's imminent use of unlawful force.
Fourth, Non-Deadly Force In Defense Of Property. In Florida, Person A is justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly force, against Person B, if Person A reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent or stop Person B's trespass upon or damage to any property (real property or personal property) lawfully in Person A's possession, or in the possession of someone in Person A's immediate family or household, or someone whose property Person A has a legal duty to protect. Also in this situation, a person who uses or threatens to use force does not have a duty to retreat.
Fifth, Deadly Force In Defense Of Property. Person A is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force in defense of property in Florida only if Person A reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent the imminent commission of a "forcible felony." Person A has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground as long as Person A is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he/she has a right to be.
This is just a snapshot of when the "Stand Your Ground" law applies in Florida, to give you a sense of how these laws work. It's critical to remember that every state's stance on this doctrine is different. If you want details on how the rules in your state might affect your particular situation, it might be time to contact an experienced attorney.