Stand-Your-Ground and the Castle Doctrine

Ever since the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watchperson, everyone is talking about the Castle Doctrine and the Stand-your-Ground laws in Florida. Many people are finding out that they don’t understand what these two laws are and how they are applied. The reason they can be confusing is because they are very similar rules of law. The Castle Doctrine is based out of common law stating that a person does not have a duty to withdraw from their home, or their “castle” as it is referred to, and may use reasonable force, as well as deadly force, to defend their place, their selves, or other people. Basically stated, you have a right to attack and defend yourself for an intruder instead of leaving your home. In Florida the law has been extended and your “castle” can be any place legally occupied. It does not need to have a roof on it. It can be movable or stationary, or it could even be as temporary as a tent. Under the Castle Doctrine, if you are beyond your “castle” and you have the ability to do so, you have a duty to retreat before using force. (Dorsey v. State, 74 So.3d 521 (2011)) Deadly force is considered justified force only in cases when you reasonably feared immediate death or serious bodily harm to yourself or another. Besides Florida, forty-six states have integrated a version the Castle Doctrine into their laws.

The Stand-Your-Ground law, by comparison, does away with the law requirement that you have to retreat outside of your “castle,” therefore allowing you to use force in defending yourself or others when there is reasonable belief of harm. Florida law states, under Florida Statue § 776.013(3), that a person has the right to defend their ground if they reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm. The law allows this if the person is not engaged in an unlawful activity and if they are attacked in any place where they have a right to be. Deadly force, under this law, is allowed, if you reasonably are in fear of imminent great bodily harm or death. Twenty states have now enacted some version of the Stand-Your-Ground law.

The Castle Doctrine and Stand-Your-Ground laws are very similar, which is why they are confusing to some. In theory Stand-Your-Ground assumes and expands the Castle Doctrine. Both allow you to defend yourself, and both are used as affirmative defenses for people charged with a crime, such as aggravated battery or murder. The main difference is that Stand-Your-Ground expands the Castle Doctrine beyond your home or “castle.”

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