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Florida’s Deadly Force Law

Florida is one of those states that still allows for use of deadly force in order to stop the commission of a felony, which played out in this story out of Florida:

Authorities do not plan to file charges against a Florida orange grove owner who fatally shot a 21-year-old woman, saying he is protected under the state’s controversial “no retreat” law.

But the woman’s boyfriend faces second-degree murder charges in her death, because the woman was shot to death during an alleged felony — the theft of an SUV.

This has nothing to do with the “no retreat law”.  Florida law allows for, and has always allowed for, the use of deadly force to stop a felony in progress.  In fact, this was common law, as I understand it, even going back to English common law.

At common law, the duty to retreat did not apply to someone stopping a felony (then felonies actually were serious crimes, unlike today when it’s anything politicians disapprove of strongly).  Duty to retreat generally only applied to individuals who were brawlers, or engaged in some other kind of non-felonious dispute.  Those individuals were expected to retreat before resorting to deadly force.  But if someone pulled a deadly weapon to rob you, you were justified in shooting him dead on the spot, as you were stopping a felony.

Fast forward a bit, and states started to take the common law justification of self-defense and put it into statutory law.  A lot of states, when they did this, took out the common law justification for felony, since these were done at a time when professional police forces were becoming common, and it was felt that apprehending and stopping felonies was a more a job for the police than private citizen.  The effect this created was that one had a duty to retreat in all circumstances.  Under American law, retreat is only necessary when the actor could have obtained complete safety by doing so, but it is still an element of the law, even if someone pulls a knife on you and demands your belongings, or even in a carjacking situation.  A prosecutor could, in theory, argue that you didn’t need to shoot the carjacker when you could have just driven off.

Some states, however, did create statutory justifications for stopping commission of a felony, and Florida is one of them.  This doesn’t have anything to do with castle doctrine.  Castle doctrine laws are meant to address the carjacking situation I spoke of above.  They eliminate the duty to retreat from a place you have a legal right to be, and establishes that deadly force may be used on a home invader, without having to first ascertain whether he presents a deadly threat.  This is not a new idea.  It used to be, many years ago, common law.

But don’t expect the media to do their research for you.

8 Responses to “Florida’s Deadly Force Law”

  1. Alan says:

    Texas has a similar law. Deadly force is justified to stop a felony.

    My favorite example being cheerleaders toilet papering a house in the dark. In Texas, malicious mischief after dark is a felony and it is legal to use deadly force to stop it.

    Good idea? Not at all. But it’s a great example of felonization of relatively trivial crimes.

  2. Graumagus says:

    [LiberalMoron] But but but… how can you be so HEARTLESS?? It’s OBVIOUS that poor woman was being manipulated by that bad man into committing a crime, and isn’t it really just society’s fault that those two didn’t have the resources they needed to live? [/LiberalMoron]

    I wish to hell Illinois had a law like that. Up here in the state of our illustrious great leader (spit) you’re damn near required to toss the arseholes the keys lest they overexert themselves while breaking in.

  3. Actually, the law does not apply to stopping all felonies, just violent ones. So, if it was a carjacking, deadly force is fine. If to just notice someone stealing your car and you are never at risk, then deadly force is definitely not ok.

  4. Mike w. says:

    We have a similar statute here in Delaware. You may use deadly force to stop a “forcible felony.”

    This would almost certainly be a “good shoot” in DE even though we don’t have a “stand your ground” law like FL does (though we do have something similar to the Castle Doctrine)

    In the article it says the homeowner had his gun raised, standing in front of his car and told them to stop. He then said the vehicle appeared to move towards him. If it was then that’d make it a “good shoot” as well. A car is a deadly weapon.

  5. Melancton Smith says:

    Illinois does have this law.

  6. Jesse says:

    This may be a quibble, but the comment “(then [English common law period] felonies actually were serious crimes, unlike today when it’s anything politicians disapprove of strongly)” while today minor crimes are serious because politicians say they are, is not too accurate. A but muddled, anyway.
    In the English common law development period almost ALL

  7. Jesse says:

    (continuation) and are you ready for this, all felonies were punished by death.

  8. Justin Buist says:

    I’m not surprised that the media passed this off as legal under a “no retreat” law but do find it a bit worrisome that such reporting can actually make it to print. Thanks for pointing out that this case didn’t have anything to do with Florida’s newer laws.

    It reminds me of the Joe Horn case over in Texas. Retired man witnesses a break-in of his neighbor’s house, calls 911, sees them starting to leave, grabs his shotgun, tells the 911 operator he knows about the new castle doctrine law, and he can shoot them for this, ventures out of his house and actually does shoot the guys.

    He wasn’t brought up charges, but his case had fuck-all to do with castle doctrine. Pre-existing Texas law already dealt with that situation and put him in the clear.

    I worry a bit that with the media lazily lumping stuff like this in with castle doctrine and no retreat laws that people might end up using lethal force when they’re not actually justified in doing so. For every one of us that actually asks somebody with legal training about the matter there’s probably thousands* that just rely upon the media to tell them what the law means, and the media usually gets it wrong**.

    *: I have no way of backing up that statement. It’s pure conjecture.

    **: See above.

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