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How does Self-defense Work?

On Wednesday, September 16, attorneys for a man who is accused of stabbing university students argued that he acted in self-defense. Earlier in September, Randolph Graham is alleged to have stabbed Elkino Watson, a football player for the University of South Florida, and Desmond Horne, a student at the University of South Florida. Mr. Watson died from his wounds.

Prosecutors allege that Mr. Graham, Mr. Watson, and Mr. Horne were at the Orpheom nightclub in Ybor City, Florida when Mr. Graham started a fight and confronted Mr. Watson as he attempted to leave the club. Mr. Graham’s attorney has argued that Mr. Watson was the aggressor and charged at Mr. Graham with a raised hand, and that the incident was, therefore, a “clear case of self-defense.”

Self-Defense

Mr. Graham’s case has not yet gone to trial, so he has not yet made a formal argument as to his justification for his actions under the doctrine of self-defense. Self-defense is an affirmative defense, meaning that the defendant claims that additional facts or circumstances provide justification for the defendant’s illegal action and, therefore, should limit or excuse the defendant from criminal culpability or sentencing. Self-defense is likely the best known and recognized affirmative defense available during criminal trial.

Self-Defense under Florida Law

There are several different theories of self-defense, so what a defendant needs to show in order to successfully argue self-defense varies by state. Florida law allows someone to use or threaten to use force to defend themselves if they have a reasonable belief that the conduct is necessary to defend themselves or someone else against the imminent use of unlawful force. In order to justify the use of deadly force, the defendant must reasonably believe that the conduct is necessary to prevent imminent death, great bodily harm, or commission of a forcible felony. The keys to a successful use of self-defense are that the defendant’s belief is reasonable, the conduct taken is necessary, and the expected force or action is imminent.

Duty to Retreat

A minority of states impose a duty to retreat; under that doctrine, if someone who would otherwise use deadly force to defend him or herself has an opportunity to safely escape, he or she must take that opportunity and leave. Florida law, however, says that the person claiming self defense has no duty to retreat. Thus, even if he or she could escape the situation safely without using force, they are allowed to remain and use force (so long as they meet the other requirements of the law) and still have a self-defense claim available.

Affirmative defenses are one way to defend yourself against criminal charges. When dealing with law enforcement, and possible prosecution, it is important to work with an experienced criminal law attorney to review the facts of your case and to understand your best options for yourself and your family. If you or a loved one has questions about your criminal case and what defenses might be available to you, contact the experienced Florida attorneys at The Baez Law Firm for a consultation today.

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