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Using Self-Defense As A Defense

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

December 2, 2021

Self-defense is one of the most commonly used defenses in criminal cases. This is especially true for violent crimes, where the alleged attacker wants to prove they acted only because they were provoked. However, using self-defense as a defense comes with many challenges.

Let’s discuss everything you need to know about arguing self-defense in Florida.

Acting in Self-Defense

Not all crimes are able to use a self-defense defense. For example, saying you drove under the influence in self-defense will not be accepted as a valid defense.

Crimes for which self-defense is a valid claim include:

Proving Self-Defense

Arguing self-defense is not as simple as saying you felt threatened and therefore you committed a violent offense. There are key components of self-defense that must be present in order to prove to the judge and jury that legitimate fear for your own well-being caused you to act violently.

You must be able to argue that:

  • You had reasonable belief that you were in danger of suffering injury or death
  • You believed that the amount of force you used was necessary to fend off the alleged victim/attacker
  • You did not provoke the attack that led to the further violence

It is also up to the prosecutors to prove that you did not act in self-defense, meaning they must collect clear evidence or provide witnesses that argue against your claim of self-defense. For example, they may provide security footage showing you provoking the incident that contradicts your claim that you were not the instigator.

Duty to Retreat

In some states, individuals who argue self-defense must also prove that they attempted to leave the hostile situation before it became violent. This is referred to as the duty to retreat. In Florida, however, there is no duty to retreat from these situations. Therefore, if someone threatens to cause you physical harm, you are not required to attempt to leave the situation before actively defending yourself.

Florida’s Stand Your Ground law gives individuals explicit rights to ‘stand their ground’ and use deadly force when necessary.

The Burden of Proof

States also have different requirements for who has the burden of proof when self-defense defense is used.

In Florida, the defense should be prepared to provide evidence of self-defense but it does not have to be extensive proof. Once there is reasonable evidence of self-defense, it is up to the State to prove otherwise. If the defendant cannot provide any solid proof that they acted in self-defense, it cannot be argued until a closing statement when challenging the State’s evidence.

When Can Self-Defense Not Be Used?

As mentioned earlier in this blog, there are some crimes for which self-defense is simply an illogical defense to use.

This includes:

Self-defense is also not a valid defense for any charges that are in relation to another offense. By this we mean, if you are committing another felony at the time you act in self-defense, it will be clear you still have criminal responsibility.

You also cannot argue self-defense when you provoked the attack, even if the other individual was acting much more violently. For example, if you hit someone and they respond by committing more severe violence, you are still at fault for starting the altercation. However, if you can prove that you tried to withdraw from the altercation you started, you may be able to argue self-defense. Still, there will be less sympathy from a judge and jury in these cases.

Difficulties of Proving Self-Defense

Proving self-defense can be difficult.

  • Solid evidence: you may not have any evidence of self-defense to present other than your own testimony. This means that if the State provides any contradictory evidence, it can be extremely hard to prove your version of events to be the truth.
  • Who started the fight: in many cases, neither the defense or the State will have clear evidence of who started the fight. Odds are, neither side will want to take the blame. This can create a difficult situation for knowing who the initial perpetrator was.
  • Recalling events: both sides may have completely different recollections of the events. Memories aren’t always accurate and in fact, high-stress situations make it even more difficult to form accurate memories.
  • Reasonable force: to argue self-defense, the defendant must say they used reasonable force. However, the defendant’s version of reasonable force may vary from others. This can then be complicated if the judge and/or jury believe the defendant used more force than necessary for the situation.
  • Criminal record: if you have a prior record, especially one involving crimes of violence, your self-defense claims may not be taken seriously.

Facing Charges After Being Provoked

If you are facing criminal charges after being involved in an altercation that you know you did not provoke or want to be involved in, you need to take action immediately to build your defense. One of the first things you should do is contact a criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can go over all of your defense options with you, as well as provide valuable guidance on which strategy they think is best to get you a favorable outcome.

If self-defense is not clear in your case, you may have a better argument for:

  • Acting to defend another person
  • Acting to defend your property
  • Acting against a trespasser

At Hager & Schwartz, P.A., we’ve helped many Florida citizens fight assault and battery charges using self-defense. Though Florida’s Stand Your Ground law allows for individuals to more comfortably act in self-defense, it is clear there are still many obstacles you must overcome to ensure you do not end up with criminal charges for protecting yourself. Our Fort Lauderdale attorneys know what it takes and we are here to help you.

Call us at (954) 840-8713 to get started with a case consultation.