Florida criminal law proscribes illegal activities through statute. That means that after a legislative session, actions that were once permissible might become unlawful or vice versa. For those accused of crimes, the defendant will likely be subject to the law at the time that the crime occurred. In a jury trial, the court instructs the jury on the law before the jury makes their findings as to the defendant’s guilt or innocence. This month, the Second District appeals court overturned an attempted second-degree murder conviction under the theory that the self-defense jury instructions incorrectly stated the law at the time the crime was committed.
The defendant attended a house party when he was 17. The defendant, along with his friends, got into a confrontation with another group about missing beer, suggesting it was stolen. This first meeting did not become violent. At a second house party, later that night, where both groups were present, tensions boiled over, and a fight erupted. The defendant testified that he tried to break up the fight but was attacked and got stabbed with a pocket knife. The defendant pulled out his own knife to defend himself. He blindly swung his knife around in alleged self-defense because he was scared for his life and didn’t know how else to defend himself. Two people were allegedly stabbed by the defendant’s knife. The State charged the defendant with attempted second-degree murder.
Florida’s self-defense jurisprudence has evolved over the years and is one of the State’s most controversial laws. The appeals court was asked to review the defendant’s conviction under the 2012 version of the law. Although Florida Statutes Section 776.013 negates a self-defense claim for someone engaging in illegal activity at the time force was used, the version of the law in effect in 2012 did not.
The State, when instructing the jury, refused to omit language that the defendant had an obligation to retreat in the event that he was engaged in an “unlawful activity.” The appeals court noted that this requirement did not exist in the 2012 version of the self-defense statute. On appeal, the appellant argued that the trial court’s decision to include the “unlawful activity” language undercut his sole defense against the attempted second-degree murder charge. The appeals court agreed and ruled that the trial court erroneously charged the jury that if it concluded that the defendant had engaged in unlawful activity, he had an obligation to retreat. Since the conduct occurred prior to the amendment of the Stand Your Ground law, the jury should have been instructed on the 2012 version. Therefore, the defendant’s conviction was reversed for attempted second-degree murder and remanded for a new trial.
Will Hanlon at Hanlon Law has over two decades of experience helping those arrested for a violent crime in St. Petersburg. There are advantages to hiring an attorney early in the process that may help you avoid a conviction or an unnecessarily harsh penalty. Even if you have not been charged yet, Will Hanlon’s experience can help if charges are filed. If you are questioned, arrested, or charged with a violent crime in St. Petersburg, call Hanlon Law at 727-897-5413 as soon as possible.
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