Court in Florida Reverses Murder Conviction Based on Self-Defense Jury Instruction

The justice system understands that sometimes an individual needs to use deadly force against another in order to defend themselves. “Self-defense” is what is called an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense means that the defendant is acknowledging that they committed the crime they are charged with, but that they had a reason that is legally sufficient to make them not culpable. In other words, typically the prosecution is the only side that needs to prove something. However, with an affirmative defense, the defense also has a burden now to prove the elements of the defense. This case addresses what specifically the defense needs to prove, and the jury instructions around this proof. If you are involved in a situation where you needed to use self-defense to protect yourself or another, you should contact a knowledgeable Clearwater violent crimes defense attorney to help you with your defense.

Facts of the Case

The defendant was charged with the first-degree murder of his employer/landlord and the attempted first-degree murder of a neighbor. There was a confrontation between the defendant and his landlord and he began shooting. The defendant alleges that he acted in self-defense based on his landlord reaching for a dark object in his pocket and previous threats by his landlord. The defendant also alleged that the neighbor threatened him as well and attempted to throw a microwave at him. The neighbor survived the shooting but the landlord did not.

The state’s version of events differed. They alleged that the defendant was the aggressor and that both of the victims were unarmed. Under this version of events, self-defense would not be an applicable affirmative defense, since it cannot be used when the defendant was the aggressor.

Florida Law Around Self-Defense

Self-defense is only allowed as an affirmative defense if certain conditions are met. Defendants can justifiably use deadly force solely when they reasonably believe that the force is necessary to prevent great bodily harm or imminent death to himself or someone else.

The issue in this case involves the jury instructions. Along with the description of self-defense similar to the paragraph above, the jury instructions included the requirement that the requirements of self-defense were proven beyond a reasonable doubt. However, this was not the proper standard of proof for self-defense. Florida law requires the prosecution to prove that it was not self-defense, instead of the defendant having to prove that it was self-defense.

Though the defense counsel did not object to the jury instructions, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal still held that the instruction was fundamental error. When there is a fundamental error the court has a responsibility to correct the error, even if the defense counsel did not object at the time. Thus, the defendant’s murder charge was dismissed and remanded back to the trial court for a new trial. However, as there was never any proof or argument put forth by the defense regarding self-defense relating to the attempted murder of the neighbor, that conviction still stands.

Contact an Experienced Clearwater Violent Crimes Criminal Defense Attorney Today!

Defendants charged with violent crimes need knowledgeable attorneys on their side to make sure that the prosecution follows the law. The experienced Clearwater violent crimes attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm will defend you zealously against any and all charges. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with our attorneys about your case.

See Related Posts:

New Trial for Man Convicted of Attempted Murder in Florida

Jury Instruction Snafu Clouds Florida Theft Case


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