A recent assault case out of Palm Beach bore an eery similarity to the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case in Northern Florida last year that captivated the country.
Again, it was another case of street justice gone wrong, though this time, the outcome was not fatal. Once again, it doesn’t appear as if anyone is going to face criminal charges (as was the case at least initially for Zimmerman, who was later arrested and ultimately acquitted at trial).
Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know that defense of one’s self is always going to be a valid defense. Where it gets a bit murkier is the defense of property.
Florida Statute 776.013 governs justifiable force with regard to home protection, the use of deadly force and the presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.
In the recent case out of Palm Beach County, a man and a woman mistook a 17-year-old boy for a burglar. They chased him down, threatened him with a metal bat, took his keys and also his wallet. What they didn’t realize at the time was that the boy, according to authorities, was totally innocent.
Originally, the couple was arrested on a number of felony charges, including burglary from a vehicle, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment.
However, charges were ultimately dropped by prosecutors, who said the couple had no criminal intent. They were, according to prosecutors, acting in good faith. Plus, the law in Florida allows individuals to use non-deadly force to defend property. The pair never physically touched the defendant.
But the fact that police and prosecutors decline charges in certain cases of property defense doesn’t mean they will in each case.
Bob Dekle, a law professor at the University of Florida, was recently quoted in the Sun Sentinel as saying that such actions, what might be referred to as a “citizen’s arrest,” are fraught with peril because the way the law is written, it is open to broad interpretation. While self-defense is self-defense, defense of property might be considered differently by different prosecutors.
So in addition to risking the possibility of engaging someone in a confrontation that might result in your own injury or death, you also run the risk of encountering an unsympathetic police officer and/or prosecutor. Had that been the case here, this couple would have been in deep trouble. Aggravated assault is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, as is false imprisonment.
A recent report by Reuters indicated that justifiable homicides in the U.S. have risen sharply as more states have passed Stand Your Ground Laws. The justifiable homicide rate reportedly rose by 53 percent in the 22 states that adopted the laws between 2005 and 2007, according to the National Urban League.
By contrast, those states that did not have a Stand Your Ground Law saw justifiable homicide rates decline by about 5 percent.
In Florida, the average annual rate of justifiable homicides increased by 200 percent, which was higher than in most states.
This is not saying that there are more murders, but rather that more of those being committed are being considered justified under the law.
If you have been arrested for a crime related to the defense of your property in Florida, call our offices today.
If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.
Vigilante case highlights debate over rights of crime victims, Sept. 17, 2013, By Brett Clarkson, Sun Sentinel
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