The Castle Doctrine in Florida

Wed, Jul 6, 2011

General Legal Issues

The Castle Doctrine involves the use of justifiable deadly force on another. Florida defines the use of deadly force as an action that would likely cause the death of or great bodily harm to another person. Governor Jeb Bush signed the Castle Doctrine into law on October 1, 2005. Florida was the first state to sign it into law, and it is not without controversy.

The Castle Doctrine generally establishes:

  • That your home and car are places where you expect to be free from harm, i.e., your “castle.” Because of this, deadly force may be used on a criminal who forcibly enters your home or occupied vehicle with the intent to do great bodily harm to you or another person in those areas.
  • that you have the right to stand your ground and fight back with deadly force when you feel it is the only way to protect yourself and you are in a place you rightly deserve to be.
  • that criminals are not able to prosecute anyone, who acted within the above circumstances, for the harm that comes to them. This restriction also applies to the criminal’s families.

However, the Castle Doctrine is controversial because it only applies in the following conditions (or under other circumstances determined by a court of law):

  • The intruder must be acting illegally. Thus, it does not include a police officer who is acting lawfully.
  • The intruder must not have been provoked, prior to committing the act, by the involved parties.
  • The person trying to use the Castle Doctrine as a defense cannot be a fugitive from the law. They also cannot use the doctrine in a situation where they were trying to hide someone who is a fugitive from the law.

It is important to note that the Castle Doctrine is merely an enhancement of the common law right of self-defense.  Thankfully, Americas have always enjoyed the right of self-defense as a legal defense in cases of force, but traditionally the right of self-defense did not apply when the initial victim had the opportunity to escape the initial attack.  (example: You are in your car at a stoplight and someone in the car next to you flashes a knife in a threatening way.  Since you could drive away and avoid violence, you would not be permitted to rely on self-defense to use deadly force upon the initial attacker.)  The Castle Doctrine enhances that right by removing, in certain circumstances, the obligation to flee.  Most notably, it means you do not need to flee your house to be able to rely on the right of self-defense.  Keep this in mind when pundits try to attack the Castle Doctrine… more often than not, the are actually confusing the Castle Doctrine with the basic right of self-defense.  Regardless of your viewpoint on the Castle Doctrine, no rational person would want to abandon the right of self-defense, since it is a basic human right that we all possess and should hold dear.

There have been many cases where defendants have tried to use the Castle Doctrine as a defense. Some cases have succeeded and some have not. The law has some intricacies that require the defendant to have been reasonably sure they might have been killed without defense in this manner. It does not give justification for randomly shooting at or trying to harm people when someone could have probably gotten away or called the police to intervene.  A case involving the Castle Doctrine would definitely require attorney involvement.  The Law Offices of Christopher Smith can help.

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