What is Florida's 'stand your ground' law and when is it legal to shoot another person?
Just before midnight on Tuesday, Marion County Sheriff's Office detectives arrested the neighbor who they say shot and killed an Ocala mother of four last week.
Susan Louise Lorincz, 58, faces charges of manslaughter with a firearm, culpable negligence, two counts of assault and battery.
Last week, Ajike "AJ" Shantrell Owens, 35, was shot and killed in her Ocala neighborhood by Lorincz. Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said in a press conference Monday that Owens died at a local area hospital shortly after.
Woods cited Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, adopted in 2005, as the reason it took so long to charge Lorincz. The legislation sets guidelines for when and how a person can defend against physical threats.
1. What is Florida’s 'stand your ground' legislation?
According to the 2019 Florida Statues Chapter 776, which covers justifiable homicide, “a person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that 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.”
Essentially, it’s considered justifiable in Florida to use or threaten to use deadly force to defend yourself if you think you’re in danger of being killed or seriously harmed by another person. Unlike laws in some other states, you’re not required to try to run away first.
2. When does 'stand your ground' apply?
“Stand your ground” applies in situations in which a person has a clear reason to believe he or she is about to be the victim of serious violence, but there are some limitations defined under the law.
According to the statute, it doesn’t apply if the person who’s defending himself or herself is engaging in some form of criminal activity. For example, a drug dealer who shoots someone during an attempted robbery at a drug deal can’t claim “stand your ground.”
The law doesn’t apply if a person uses deadly force against a law enforcement officer who is “acting in the performance of his or her official duties.”
If the person using deadly force intentionally provoked the other party, or if the other party has already attempted to withdraw from the confrontation, the use of force is not justified under “stand your ground.”
Additionally, “stand your ground” only applies if the person who uses force in self-defense is in a place where they’re legally allowed to be. A person who is threatened while trespassing or breaking into someone’s home can’t claim self-defense under “stand your ground.”
3. What is 'duty to retreat?'
“Duty to retreat” is the expectation that a person who’s being threatened with bodily harm will make a reasonable attempt to escape from the situation before resorting to using deadly force. In about a third of U.S. states, it’s only legal to use deadly force in self-defense if you’ve attempted other avenues of escape or de-escalation unless you're in your own home, according to Findlaw.com.
This is not the case in Florida. A person who is obeying the law and in a place where he or she is permitted to be has no obligation to try to get away.
4. Why is it so controversial?
The fatal 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman put Florida’s “stand your ground” law under national scrutiny. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder.
Critics say “stand your ground” may embolden gun owners to use deadly force when it might not be necessary by fostering a “shoot-first” mentality. Ben Crump, a Tallahassee civil rights attorney called the law “a virtual get-out-of-jail-free card that is essentially a license to kill.”
The controversy deepened in late 2018 when the Florida Supreme Court ruled “stand your ground” immunity applies to law enforcement officers in the line of duty in the same way it applies to civilians, according to a report by the Associated Press.
The decision stemmed from a 2013 case in which police shot and killed 33-year-old Jermaine McBean in Fort Lauderdale. McBean was carrying a recently purchased air rifle that sheriff’s deputies mistook for a real firearm, and he didn’t immediately obey commands from deputies because he was listening to music with earbuds and didn’t hear them. Peter Peraza, the deputy who shot McBean, was granted “stand-your-ground” immunity in court, but the state appealed. The case ultimately went to the Supreme Court, AP reported.
5. Do other states have similar laws?
Twenty-seven states have legislatively adopted “stand your ground” laws and another five states have adopted “stand your ground” in practice. Three more states have “stand-your-ground” laws, but they only apply if a person is threatened while in their vehicle.
Some states limit use of deadly force to castle doctrine, which justifies the use of force in self-defense by a property owner or resident while at that dwelling or property. In those states, people have a duty to retreat in public places. Vermont is the only state that has neither “stand your ground” nor castle doctrine statutes, according to the state's legislature website.