Does the Stand Your Ground Law protect against Civil Judgment?

immovable enforcerThere may be a few people in the remote backcountry regions of the Amazon who have never heard of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin and Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.  There are probably even fewer people who do not have a very strong opinion on the subject.  Although criminal law is pretty clearly defined, civil law on the subject is less well defined.

Florida’s statute 776.013 (3) reads as follows:

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

In plain language, that means that a Floridian will not be held liable in a criminal court for any action taken to defend himself from illegal activity, even if that action results in a the offender’s death.  However, this specific statute does not specifically address immunity from civil judgments.

The issue of whether the Stand Your Ground laws are an “absolute legal defense,” capable of being used in both the criminal and civil courts is now working its way through the Florida judicial system.

In a recent case heard by a Florida appellate court, the defendants are using the Stand Your Ground law as a defense against civil judgment. In this case, Jose Alvarez beat a co-worker named Derrick Flemmings, with a baseball bat while both on the job at roofing company located in Miami.  The police arrested Alvarez and in a criminal court, he was found not guilty based upon the Stand Your Ground laws, which was used as a justification for his actions.

However, while the criminal trial was in process, Mr. Flemmings decided to seek redress in the civil courts as well.  He sued both Alvarez and their employer, Professional Roofing and Sales claiming emotional distress, negligent hiring, assault, and battery, among other charges.

By the time the civil case was heard, the criminal case was over and Mr. Alvarez had already been found not guilty.  Mr. Alvarez and the employer stated that the Stand Your Ground laws should serve as an “absolute legal defense” that would be applicable in criminal as well as civil courts and sought to have the case thrown out.  The judge, without even conducting a hearing on the matter, disagreed and denied the request.

In the appeal, the courts have stated that their issue was with the judge’s decision, one that was made without an evidentiary hearing.  What this means is that, for the time being, the civil courts will not be automatically using the Stand Your Ground laws to provide blanket immunity, nor should they automatically rebuff the argument.  The courts must look at the evidence to make a decision in the civil court system.

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