Is it Legal to Shoot a Trespasser on my Property in Florida?

The right to defend yourself, your home, and your property from intruders and trespassers goes back centuries. It came to be known as “the Castle Doctrine.” But much has changed in the law of self-defense over the last hundred years, and it is important to know what force you can legally use to defend yourself, your family, and your property.  


This blog explains Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” law. This is the FS chapter 776, which specifies what is “Justifiable Use of Force” in Florida. As you will learn, Florida law does permit the use of necessary force, including deadly force, in self-defense and defense of others, under certain circumstances, but not all circumstances. 


At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we believe every person should understand their legal rights and where the law restricts them. If you are charged or implicated in a use of force crime and want help with the Stand Your Ground law, contact the Stechschulte Law Firm in Tampa. We are ready to help. 



What Is the Stand Your Ground Law? 


Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is a special statute enacted by the legislature to clarify the amount of force a person can legally use when confronted with a threat of bodily harm or death, or when someone  “intrudes” without permission into their home, dwelling, or vehicle.  


The question arose as a major issue because traditional common law left people wondering whether they could lawfully use force to defend themselves or their homes from a violent intruder or if they needed to use an available avenue to retreat or run away from the threat, surrendering their ground, so to speak. Did they have their back up against the wall before they used force? The answer to this dilemma often depended on what response was “reasonable” under the circumstances.  


The common law allowed a homeowner or resident to use force if they were not the aggressor and were assaulted by an intruder in their own home. Deadly force was permitted only if it were reasonably necessary to prevent the intruder from causing serious bodily harm or killing the resident or others in the home. 


The “reasonableness” test meant that a homeowner or resident remained uncertain if they would be prosecuted for using deadly force in their own home against someone who broke in. To eliminate the case-by-case uncertainty, the Stand Your Ground law was established.  


What Force Does the Stand Your Ground Law Allow? 


The Stand Your Ground law eliminates much of the uncertainty of whether a person must retreat or may use force when assaulted or threatened with bodily harm in Florida. 


In situations outside of a home or dwelling, the new law provides the following rule about when someone may use force instead of retreating: 


  • A person need not retreat and may threaten or use nondeadly force when and to the extent they believe it is reasonably necessary to defend themselves or another against another person’s imminent use of illegal force. (FS 776.12(1)) 
  • And, if a person is in a location where they have a right to be and they are not engaged in unlawful activity, they need not retreat and may use or threaten to use deadly force when they believe using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. (FS 776.12(2)) 


Notice that the Stand Your Ground law still requires an analysis of what is “reasonably necessary” and the “imminence” of the threat presented by the other person.  


However, the Stand Your Ground law simplified the law when someone intrudes into your home or dwelling without permission.  


  • A person has the right to “stand their ground” and not retreat and can use or threaten to use deadly force when they reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to themselves or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. 


How is that more definitive? The language that made the application of this section of the law more clear provides that a person who uses deadly force is presumed to have acted reasonably if the following circumstance is present: 


  • if the person against whom the force was used had or was attempting to unlawfully and forcefully enter a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle or was trying to remove a person from one of those locations, and the person who used the force had reason to be aware of that fact.  


Moreover, the statute creates a legal presumption that a person who forcefully and unlawfully enters a dwelling, residence, or occupied dwelling without permission is presumed to have the intent to commit an act of violence. 


Stand Your Ground Immunity from Prosecution and Civil Liability 


The Stand Your Ground law grants immunity from prosecution to a person who used force as permitted by the statute. The immunity also extends to civil suits. The distinction between this immunity and a usual “defense” to a criminal prosecution is in the fact that this law prevents law enforcement from arresting or even detaining the person who used force until they have probable cause to disprove the person’s claim of immunity. 


And if the person claimed immunity under Stand Your Ground is criminally charged, the prosecutor must prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant is not entitled to the protections afforded by the Stand Your Ground law.  


What Is NOT Allowed Under the Stand Your Ground Law? 


The law does not apply to all situations where a trespasser might be present. If someone is cutting through your private backyard outside of a building or enclosure, the Stand Your Ground law will not authorize using force merely because they are trespassing.  


No one may claim immunity from prosecution under the Stand Your Ground law if any of the following circumstances apply to the case: 


  • The person against whom the force was used had a right to be in the dwelling, residence or vehicle (and did not have a restraining order or no contact order), 
  • The person against whom the force was used had legal custody or guardianship of a child or grandchild whom they were attempting to remove from the premises, 
  • The person who used the force was engaged in unlawful activity, 
  • The person entering the premises forcefully was a police officer who identified themselves and was acting in their official duty, and the person who used force knew or should have known who they were. 


It is also clear that force may not be used to resist a law enforcement officer attempting to arrest someone during their official duties. 


Read More > What is the Stand Your Ground Law in Florida?  


Complexities of Stand Your Ground Require an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer 


Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is complex and should not be navigated alone. It is important to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer from Stechschulte Nell Law on your side to ensure your rights are protected. We will use our knowledge of the law, case precedents, and our experience in court to help you achieve the best possible outcome for your case.  


Contact our attorneys at Stechschulte Nell Law for a case review today at 813-280-1244. 

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