Self-Defense Snafu Sends Florida Domestic Violence Conviction Back to Court

Florida law generally allows a person to use physical force to ward off an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm. Self-defense often comes up in domestic violence and other cases involving physical altercations. As the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently explained, self-defense is a legal defense for a person charged with a crime. It’s not relevant as some sort of justification for the victim’s alleged use of force.The defendant was convicted of felony battery following an incident involving his ex-girlfriend and the mother of one of his children. At trial, the victim said she was still seeing the defendant on and off and had just learned days earlier that another woman whom the defendant was seeing was pregnant. The defendant asked the victim to come to his home so that he could explain the situation. Their daughter and the victim’s aunt, cousin, and grandmother were all in the house at the time the argument ensued.

The victim moved to leave the bedroom where she was arguing with the defendant when a physical altercation occurred, according to the court. The victim was holding the couple’s child and grabbed a cereal box from a dresser. The defendant grabbed her arm, according to the court, until the victim dropped the box. He said “do you see this [expletive]?” and then hit the victim in the back while she was carrying the child. The defendant allegedly backed the woman into a corner, pushed her, and said “now I have to [expletive] you up.” In response, the victim flung a bag containing a glass bottle at the defendant. That’s when the defendant punched the woman in the face repeatedly, according to the court. The victim lost two teeth, had her jaw broken, and suffered two black eyes.

The trial court instructed the jury that both the defendant and the victim have the right to use non-deadly force in self-defense under certain circumstances. The defendant later appealed his conviction, arguing that the jury should not have been instructed on the victim’s right to self-defense. He said that was because the victim was not on trial for any alleged crime. The Fourth District agreed.

“The modified jury instruction…was misleading and confusing, because it improperly shifted the focus of the case from appellant’s claim of self-defense to the issue of [the victim]’s right to use force,” the court said. “Because [the victim] was not charged with any offense, the question of whether [the victim] was legally justified in using force against appellant was not at issue in this case.”

As a result, the court reversed the conviction and sent the case back to the trial court for a new hearing.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a domestic violence crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced defense lawyer. Clearwater criminal defense attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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