Personal Safety & the Law

Over my 25-year career as a law enforcement officer, I have investigated many violent crimes, and I have taught personal safety at Talon Range since we opened. I also have more than two decades of experience as an instructor on the appropriate use of force, so the material I teach to my students comes from my experience on the streets and court system.

Understanding your personal safety options includes knowing what is legal in a given situation. There is a huge difference between what you can do and what you should do.

First, responding to a threat with force is seldom the best solution; you can usually walk away. However, if you decide the threat is imminent and retreat is not an option, having confidence in your legal standing could make a difference between taking decisive action to win a fight or making an uncertain effort and losing. Take the time to learn the nuances now because you won’t consider them when under stress.

Florida Statute 776.012 is the appropriate law for public conduct in public, and knowing it can help save you in a time of personal peril. The first section of this law has a fairly simple meaning: if you reasonably believe another person is going to touch you unlawfully, and that it will happen imminently, you can use a reasonable amount of force — based on the totality of the circumstances — to defend yourself from that unlawful action.

In other words, if someone walked up to you in a parking lot and threatened to punch you, you have no duty to retreat; you can use any force, short of force that might cause great bodily harm or kill the subject, to defend yourself. When they are no longer a threat, you have to stop the use of force.

The next part of the law says 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.” There are two sections to consider – the use of deadly force to protect yourself or someone else from great bodily harm or death, and the use of deadly force to prevent a forcible felony from imminent occurrence.

The first section means that if someone threatens to unlawfully harm you and you reasonably believe this unlawful harm will cause your death or permanently injure you, you can use deadly force to defend yourself. You can also use force to defend another from that same unlawful act. This may sound straightforward, but it’s a little more complicated. For example, if the person threatening you is armed, an armed response would be appropriate. But what if they are much larger than you, seem to have strong fighting skills and threaten to beat you to death, while appearing to be on drugs? Based on the totality of circumstances, deadly force might be justified. You have to think about whether you can justify your actions to a jury, because you may have to.

The last section of this law is that you can use deadly force to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. So if someone is robbing someone (in person, not a burglary) or committing a sexual battery, a kidnapping or other forcible felony, you can defend yourself or the victim with deadly force. In these situations, what does deadly force mean? A gun? Something else? For example, if you are at an ATM and someone robs at gunpoint, do you defend yourself or give them money? It’s simple — most people will hand over the money, even if they don’t have to. But what if they ask for your keys? What if your 3-year-old child is in the car? Now it’s not so simple.

This is why it’s so important to play the “what if” game; think ahead, consider your options and know the law. And remember, this law is not the same as the “Castle Doctrine,” which deals with your home, dwelling or occupied vehicle. This is nasty business, but reality can be nasty sometimes. Preparation and awareness of your options, especially your legal options, could make the difference between significant injury or walking away from a threat unharmed.

Do you have to be the victim of the forcible felony, or could you use deadly force to prevent it from happening to someone else?

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