What does Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law say you can do?

Florida prosecutors on Monday charged Michael Drejka with manslaughter following a July 19 shooting in the parking lot of a Clearwater, Florida, convenience store.

Drejka, 47, is accused of shooting and killing Markeis McGlockton, 28, after a fight that began over a handicapped parking space.

Drejka was not initially arrested for the shooting. Police say he was not initially taken into custody because of Florida’s “stand your ground” law which allows a person to use deadly force to protect himself if he fears “imminent death or great bodily harm.” After further investigation, prosecutors decided to file manslaughter charges against Drejka, Pinellas County State Attorney Bernie McCabe told The Associated Press.

According to witnesses, Drejka berated McGlockton’s girlfriend after she parked in a handicapped-accessible parking space. Surveillance video shows McGlockton leaving the store, confronting Drejka and shoving him to the ground. Drejka, on the ground in a seated position, pulled out his gun and fired a shot, hitting McGlockton in the chest. McGlockton went back into the store and collapsed, the video showed. He was pronounced dead at a hospital a short time later.

What does Florida’s law say and how does it work? Here’s a look at “stand your ground.”

What does ‘stand your ground’ mean?

Florida's law, adopted in 2005, reads:

(1) A person is justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other's imminent use of unlawful force. A person who uses or threatens to use force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use such force.

(2) 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. A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be.

Florida’s “stand your ground’’ law basically says you can use deadly force – such as shooting someone – to defend yourself if you fear for their life, or are afraid of serious bodily injury. In Florida, there is no duty to retreat before using deadly force.

What does ‘duty to retreat’ mean?

Under Florida’s law, if someone is in a place they are legally allowed to be, they do not have a “duty to retreat” (try to get away from that place) before using deadly force on a person they feel threatened by. That rule applies even if there is a way to get away without being harmed.

What does Florida’s stand your ground mean for you in the legal sense?

Florida’s statute says that if a person lawfully uses deadly force self-defense, then that person is “immune from criminal prosecution” in that case. In other words, if you kill someone to save yourself because you had a reasonable fear you were going to be harmed, you will not be charged with killing that person. That provision applies even if you could have gotten away from the situation safely.

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In addition, last year, the Florida Legislature passed a law that shifted the burden of proof in a stand your ground case from the defense to the prosecution. That means that defendants do not have to prove in pretrial hearings that they were defending themselves in order to avoid prosecution. Another part of Florida’s law says law enforcement officers who make an arrest that is later determined to be unwarranted face legal fees and civil penalties.

Is Florida the only state that has this law?

In addition to Florida, 32 other states have “stand your ground” laws. Some states require you to retreat “with perfect safety,” meaning you must retreat from a situation when you can do so without being harmed or you lose the right to use the argument of deadly force self-defense in court.

Where did the law come from?

Florida’s law is based in part on castle doctrine. Castle doctrine says that you have a right to defend yourself -- with deadly force in most cases -- if you are in your home, yard or private office. Castle doctrine is considered common law, or law that is developed through the years through decisions made by the court.