On 26 April 2005, the then Governor Jeb Bush signed SB-436, now referred to as Florida’s “Castle Doctrine”. It took effect on 1 October 2005. The reference to “castle” is credited to Unified Sportsman of Florida president Marion Hammer, who lobbied on behalf of the National Rifle Assoication for the change to Florida’s old “Stand Your Ground” law. Hammer made the connection to the old English law that a man’s home is his castle and that he has a right to protect himself and his family inside his home without retreating and use deadly force, if necessary due to a belief of a threat. Prior to 2005, the Florida Supreme Court and appellate courts issued multiple opinions stressing the importance of human life and the duty to retreat. The courts continue to believe that the castle doctrine should be limited to only inside the home.
The Florida “Castle Doctrine” law basically does three things: (In the military, this is called Rules of Engagement)
One. It establishes, in law that a person who forcibly enters into your home or vehicle is there to cause death or great bodily harm and, therefore, a person may use any manner of force, including deadly, against that person.
Two. (new part) the law removed the old “duty to retreat”. If you are attacked at a place you have a right to be you no longer have to turn your back (not a good idea, anyway) and run away. Now you have a legal right to stand your ground and meet force with force.
Three. It provides the person defending his home, or family, authorized by law not to be prosecuted for injuring, or killing, the attacker/s.
The bottom line for the change was to give the rights back to the law-abiding citizen and hopefully force judges and prosecutors, who sometimes cuddle the criminal, to instead focus on protecting the victims. Killing of another person is a homicide. Pre-emptive self defense cases in which one kills another on suspicion that the victim might eventually be dangerous is considered by law to be criminal. In most cases, it must be proven that there were no other choices but to kill. The new Florida law attempts to provide clearer guide lines for the good guys, but there are still many loop holes for the bad guys.
Florida State Attorney, Willie Meggs, has been an outspoken critic of the new law stating that it is the “Shoot the Avon Lady” law and sometimes just calls it “that stinking law” that could foster the “wild west” shoot outs on the streets by gangs and then plead that it was self defense under the “castle doctrine”. This is exactly what is happening to some recent cases before the courts. Some states call similar laws, “Make My Day” laws.
Example of this is the dismissal of the charges against Kamal Taylor, Jeffery Brown and Andrae Taylor in the shooting death of 15 year-old Michael jackson on 17 February 2008 on Hilton Street, Tallahassee. The new law requires a request for immunity of self defense and this ties up the courts. The request is heard by a judge and not a jury. If the judge grants immunity under the law, the charges are dismissed. Law enforcement officials say the new law provides a legal cover for gang members, drug dealers, and other street level criminals. This was not the intention of the new law, but it is becoming a criminal lawyer’s dream come true. Sgt. James McQuaig, spokesperson for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, says that the law doesn’t just apply to law-abiding citizen – it is now being applied to gang members who are having shoot outs in the streets of Tallahassee.
Statistics do show an increase in justifiable homicides by private citizens in Florida from 65 between 1999 to 2004 to 152 between 2005 and 2009. During this same time period, law enforcement justifiable homicides increased from 110 to 213.
Several more cases are pending decisons in the Florida Supreme Court over the failure of the lower courts to conduct immunity hearings or the denial of granting immunity without the hearings. Jimmy Hair killed Charles Harper in Tallahassee as they left the Top Flite Club in 2007. 1st District Court of Appeals in 2009 ruled that Hair was entitled to a hearing on immunity. Willie Meggs office has taken the case to the Florida Supreme Court. In another case, an Okeechobee County man arrested for attempted murder on a women who hit him with a broken beer bottle. He was denied an immunity hearing and appealed. Perhaps, the Florida Supreme Court will provide more clearer guidelines for future cases on the protocol for granting the bad guys immunity under the new law. An interesting side bar of the law is the recent permitting of citizens to have a concealed weapon in their vehicles on employer’s property while at work.