Although society tends to view domestic violence as a one-sided crime, the reality is often a bit messier than that. It’s not unusual for both sides to be physical with each other. Yet law enforcement in Florida are statutorily urged to identify and arrest just one primary aggressor.
One can argue mutual combat or self-defense in a Broward domestic violence case – but these approaches are risky. As our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer can explain, self-defense is an affirmative defense – meaning you admit to the accused action, but argue it justified to avoid the legal affect it would otherwise have. Yes, the violent act occurred, but it was reasonably necessary in order to prevent the other person’s imminent use of unlawful force against themselves or someone else. According to F.S. 776.012, there is no duty to retreat. Further, as noted in F.S. 776.103, a person who is in their own home or vehicle is presumed by law to have a reasonable fear of imminent death or bodily harm if the alleged victim unlawfully entered or remained or attempted to remove another person against their will. Of course, in domestic situations, the question will be whether entry was unlawful – which it would not be if the residence is shared.
Florida has relatively strong self-defense statutes that protect one’s right to fight off an attacker in the face of immediate danger. However, courts expect solid evidence of that imminent threat. This is much more straightforward in situations where a stranger enters the home. In cases of domestic violence, self-defense is tougher to prove.
There are three basic scenarios when one’s use of force is considered justified under Florida self-defense laws:
- To defend yourself or someone else. If you reasonably believe that using force or threatening to use force is necessary to defend yourself or someone else against the threat of another person’s unlawful use of force, then your actions may be legally justified.
- To protect your home or the people in it. There is a presumption that if someone is unlawfully in your home that you may have a reasonable fear of bodily harm that would justify use of force. You aren’t expected to retreat in this scenario. However, deadly force is only allowable when you reasonably believe you need to do so in order to protect yourself or someone else from either great bodily harm or death OR to prevent the other person from committing a forcible felony (such as sexual assault).
- To defend your property. Force can be lawfully used when one reasonably believes it’s necessary to stop someone from trespassing on, taking possession of, or destroying personal property. This force can only be deadly if someone truly believes it’s necessary to halt the commission of a forcible felony.
Use of force is not justified if the person using it was committing, trying to commit, or escaping after commission of a forcible felony. Force also will not be justified if the person exercising it provoked or threatened it themselves. There can be exceptions, but generally people are expected to do everything they can to try to escape danger or act in good faith to try to withdraw.
Think Carefully Before Asserting Self-Defense in Florida Domestic Violence Case
The decision to argue self-defense in a Florida domestic violence case is not one that should be made without thoughtful consideration. In order to assert self-defense, you need to concede that you were at the scene when the fight/altercation took place and that you were the cause of the accuser’s injuries. Depending on the situation, it may not be a in your best interests to make those concessions. If your Fort Lauderdale domestic violence defense attorney agrees self-defense is your best defense, you will need to show the threat you faced was imminent, your actions under the circumstances were reasonable, and you didn’t initially provoke the action.
The primary reason self-defense is a tricky stance to take is because these cases so commonly come down to he-said-she-said. Often when one partner suffers more injuries than the other, they are presumed to be the victim – even if that isn’t necessarily true. Successfully challenging that assumption may be difficult absent independent evidence such as a third party testimony, video, or electronic messages.
Bottom line: This is an avenue that should only be pursued if you have solid evidence and a skilled defense lawyer.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
F.S. 776.012, Use or threatened use of force in defense of person
More Blog Entries:
Common Broward Criminal Defense Strategies in Misdemeanor Cases, Feb. 20, 2023, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer