| Read Time: 3 minutes | Domestic Violence
domestic violence and self defense

Can self-defense be a valid defense against a domestic violence charge? Yes, it definitely can.

Sometimes a criminal action can be acceptable if you are defending yourself—even if the other person is smaller and weaker than you, and even if they are your spouse.

Overview of Domestic Violence in Florida Law

Under Florida law, “domestic violence” is not typically its own offense.  (The exception is domestic battery by strangulation.)

However, penalties for a crime may be enhanced if the crime involved domestic violence. Examples of crimes that can also be domestic violence offenses include assault, kidnapping, stalking, sexual battery, sexual assault, and any crime causing physical injury or death.

Generally, however, an offense will be “domestic violence” only if it occurs between people that share, or previously shared, relationships as spouses, housemates, domestic partners, blood-related family, or intimate partners.

Penalties for domestic violence will depend on the offense involved. For example, take domestic battery, a misdemeanor offense. Battery is any intentional touching of another person without their consent or intentionally causing bodily harm to another person.

As a first-degree misdemeanor, someone convicted of battery can get up to one year in jail and a $1,000 maximum fine. For domestic battery, those penalties can also include a minimum jail time of 5 days, a no-contact order, six months of domestic violence classes, and community service.

If a no-contact order is in place, the Defendant is prohibited from having contact with the victim directly, indirectly, or through third parties. Prohibited contact includes not only in-person contact, but also contact via phone calls, text messages, over email, or through social media.  Violation of a no-contact order is a first-degree misdemeanor.

Overview of Self-Defense in Florida Law

Self-defense is an affirmative defense. You admit that you committed the act but assert that your actions were justifiable under the circumstances. 

Under Florida law, the use of non-deadly force is justifiable to protect yourself or another person from someone else’s unlawful use of force. Deadly force is justifiable where you reasonably believe it is necessary to use such force to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm.

If you defend yourself against someone attempting to enter your house or vehicle unlawfully or to remove someone from the house or vehicle against their will, Florida law will generally presume that you had a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm. This is known as the Stand Your Ground Law.

Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, you do not have a duty to retreat if you are somewhere you have the right to be. This means that you can choose to defend yourself against an attacker even if you have an opportunity to get away from them.

You cannot use self-defense as a defense if you provoked the attack, unless you tried to retreat and the other person continued to attack you. You also can’t claim self-defense if you were committing a crime at the time.

Domestic Violence and Self-Defense

Some complications may arise in attempting to prove self-defense in the context of a domestic relationship.

For example, the Stand Your Ground Law’s presumption may not apply if the person you are defending against, such as a spouse, also has the legal right to be in the house or vehicle. You also can’t use force to prevent someone from removing a child over whom they have legal custody. 

On the other hand, if you have a court-ordered injunction or no contact order against the person, then they may no longer have the right to access the house or vehicle where you are. In that case, you could be justified in using force—even deadly force.

Your attorney can submit a pre-trial Stand Your Ground Motion, which asks the judge to consider your self-defense argument. If the judge grants your motion, your case could be dismissed.

If not, you can still bring up the defense at trial for a jury to consider. For a valid self-defense claim, you must show that there was an imminent threat and that a reasonable person would have done the same thing that you did. 

Orlando Defense’s Domestic Violence Lawyers Are Highly Skilled and Well-Trained

An experienced domestic violence lawyer is a must when dealing with these charges.

A conviction can hurt your future employment opportunities. If convicted, you will be barred from owning guns under federal law and from concealed-carry privileges in Florida. Non-citizens face possible deportation. No-contact orders can make life difficult if you share a residence or have children with the other person.

Aside from the domestic violence issues, if the underlying violent act is a felony, you could be facing time in prison and high fines. 

At Orlando Defense our criminal defense attorneys have the expertise to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. We know how to protect your rights and will vigorously advocate for you to the best of our abilities.

Contact us to schedule your consultation.  

Author Photo

Jeff Higgins

Jeff began his career as an assistant public defender in Lake County, Florida. Jeff works to make sure that his clients understand the legal process, understand their rights, and fully understand their choices before making any decisions about their case.

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