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What Stand Your Ground Means for Your Rights

Historically, you could only claim the right of self-defense if someone attacked you and you had no option to run away. Even if you were in a place have a right be, the law required you to retreat rather than fight back if someone assaulted you.

Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, you have no duty to retreat before using force, even deadly force, if you feel threatened and the amount of force you used was necessary to protect yourself or someone else or to prevent a felony. The law applies in any dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle that you had a legal right to be in when attacked. The law goes beyond merely providing a defense — if there is no evidence to contradict your testimony that you acted in self-defense, you are not supposed to even be charged with a crime.

George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot Trayvon Martin in Sanford in February 2012. There were no eyewitnesses, but Zimmerman says that Martin jumped on him after Zimmerman asked Martin what he was doing in the neighborhood. Photos of Zimmerman taken after the incident show that his nose was bloody and swollen and there were deep gashes on the back of his head. Zimmerman was not initially charged with a crime because of the stand your ground law.

The incident drew an enormous amount of press coverage around the country. The fact that Zimmerman was white (he is actually of mixed ancestry, including Latino) and Martin was black, led to allegations that Zimmerman’s actions were racially motivated. After several weeks of pressure, the state of Florida appointed a special prosecutor to look into the case, and Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder in April. He is now out on bail awaiting trial.

Decisions about the need to defend yourself have to be made in a split second. Fortunately, Florida law has historically protected those who have had to use deadly force. If you are concerned that you will be charged with a crime because you defended yourself against an attack, you need aggressive, experienced legal counsel today.

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