As a criminal defense attorney in St. Petersburg, I only handle cases in Pinellas County, Florida. I am regularly asked questions about self defense when it comes to battery or assault charges and how the court system treats them.
Self Defense Law
The law on self defense applies to both misdemeanors and felonies. It is considered to be an affirmative defense to the charge. It means that you were justified in threatening to use force and/or using force because you reasonably believed it was necessary to defend yourself or another from the imminent use of unlawful force from another. You can even rely on self defense to protect your property. You have no obligation to retreat before using this threat/force. See Florida Statute § 776.012 and 776.031. This law is actually hyper-technical, so it really matters how the case is set up from the start as to whether you might have a valid self defense claim. It all comes down to whether you have enough to convince the jury and meet Florida’s Jury Instruction 3.6(g).
The most important part about all self defense cases is your statement to the police. The prosecutor won’t know what you are going to say until a trial, so if you want a chance to avoid getting formally charged, what you say at the outset is extremely important. Self defense is subjective because it is based on what you believe. Therefore, the sole basis of self defense is how you are able to describe why you did what you did. While I always recommend speaking to a lawyer before giving a statement, that doesn’t happen in most self defense cases because people are anxious to explain to the police why they did what they did because they believe they did not commit a crime. But, the police are tricky and know the law better than you do. They will attempt to get you to say something that will ultimately undermine your self defense argument. They do this by asking about two main areas- the requirements to defend and whether the other’s use of force was imminent. If you were arrested, it means they either didn’t believe you or you sunk your own ship.
Think about what must be going through your mind in order to defend yourself. You must be in fear, right? You must think that something bad is going to happen and you are scared, right? The number one trick that police will try is to get you to say that you acted out of anger. Anger is not fear. Anger is not you being scared. Anger is aggression. If you tell the police that you were angry at the time that you acted, you have effectively undermined your self-defense claim. Beware of this trick because they will try it in every case, so don’t fall into the trap.
Force was Imminent
Another trick by the police is to get you to admit that you acted at a time when the other person was no longer a danger to you. Remember, from the law above, your actions must be in response to another’s imminent use of unlawful force. So, if the other person was walking away, had put down a weapon, someone else had intervened, the threat may no longer be imminent.
Types of Crimes Where Self Defense is Most Commonly Used in Pinellas
In Pinellas County, self defense is used for battery and assault charges. Misdemeanor battery under Fla. Stat. 784.03 (including domestic battery), felony battery under Fla. Stat. 784.041 and aggravated battery under Fla. Stat. 784.045 are all standard. There are very few misdemeanor assault cases in Pinellas, so the normal charge where self defense is used is aggravated assault under Fla. Stat. 784.021.
Contact a Pinellas County Criminal Defense Attorney
Just because you got arrested for a crime does not mean that you will be charged. It is the time after the arrest, but before the formal charge, that a criminal defense attorney is so important in self defense cases. During this stage, also called the investigative phase, your defense lawyer is able to inform the prosecutor why you did what you did. A lawyer can lay out your defense without incriminating you. If you sit back and delay, or just use a public defender, you will have lost an extremely important opportunity to convince the prosecutor to dismiss the case.
If you are under investigation or have been arrested for an assault or battery charge and believe it was self defense, contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately. I can often determine within a few minutes about what needs to be done to bolster the self defense claim and how to get it dismissed or reduced.