Self-Defense for Claims Stemming from Domestic Violence

Meldon Law has helped protect both victims and the accused of Domestic Violence for over 30 years. While Domestic Violence (“DV”) is more often associated with criminal charges, those brought by the State of Florida in a criminal prosecution, it is important to remember for both victims and the accused that civil claims, those brought by a Plaintiff in a civil case which typically seeks monetary damages and/or injunctive relief can still be viable even if a criminal charge exists against the Defendant.

As a preliminary matter, it is important for the reader to understanding that the burdens of proof are starkly different in a criminal matter as opposed to a civil case. In a criminal case, the State must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt each “element” of a domestic battery. The jury instructions for a domestic violence case often reads similar to the following as it pertains to “Reasonable Doubt”:

You must presume or believe the defendant is innocent. The presumption stays with the defendant as to each material allegation in the information or indictment through each stage of the trial unless it has been overcome by the evidence to the exclusion of and beyond a reasonable doubt….

Whenever the words “reasonable doubt” are used you must consider the following:

A reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary or forced doubt. Such a doubt must not influence you to return a verdict of not guilty if you have an abiding conviction of guilt. On the other hand, if, after carefully considering, comparing and weighing all the evidence, there is not an abiding conviction of guilt, or, if, having a conviction, it is one which is not stable but one which wavers and vacillates, then the charge is not proved beyond every reasonable doubt and you must find the defendant not guilty because the doubt is reasonable

For a civil case, however, the Plaintiff must prove their case by the, “Greater weight of the Evidence” or often referred to as the, “Preponderance of Evidence.” Florida Jury instructions read will define greater weight of the evidence often by “more persuasive and convincing force and effect of the entire evidence in the case.” Stated differently, for the Plaintiff to win at trial they must “tilt the scales” in their favor or if you can imagine a perfectly balanced scale, all Plaintiff must do is tilt the scales a little in his favor or 51% vs. 49% of the weight of the evidence. These burdens are radically different and for a good reason. Criminal cases can be life altering and the State may take away the accused freedom whereas most often, the end result of a civil case (generally speaking) in favor of a plaintiff seeks monetary compensation.

In both criminal and civil cases, the Defendant may plea “Self-Defense,” which is an affirmative defense to a battery (domestic or otherwise). What this essentially says to the court is, “Yes, I touched him/her, but I was lawfully permitted to do so.” In a civil action for damages resulting from an assault and battery, a plea of self-defense, if proven, is an absolute bar to liability. Etcher v. Blitch, 381 So. 2d 1119 (Fla. 1st DCA 1979). Dating all the way back to 1914 as referenced in Price v. Gray’s Guard Service, Inc., 298 So. 2d 461 (Fla. 1st DCA 1974), civil courts have held that a person unlawfully assaulted is entitled to repel force with force to the extent it seems reasonably necessary to protect from injury. That is to say, a person who has no reason to believe that there exists a safe way avoid the necessity of defense is privileged to defend against another by force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily harm when the person reasonably believes that the other is about to inflict on the person an intentional bodily harm or death.

The conduct of a person acting in self-defense is measured by an objective standard that must be applied to the facts and circumstances as they appeared at the time of the altercation to the one acting in self-defense. Additionally, one who acts in self-defense is not held to the same course of conduct that might have been expected had the person been afforded an opportunity to “cool down” or cool thought as to possibilities, probabilities, and alternatives. While often applied and associated as a defense in criminal proceedings, Florida, “Stand Your Ground Statutes” by their language provide immunity from civil action to a person who uses or threatens to use force as permitted by the act and therefore may be applied to grant immunity to civil prosecution from an assault/battery-defendant under certain circumstances.

By way of example, under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Laws, a person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another; or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. Notably, a person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with the applicable provision does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be. Furthermore, a provision of the Stand Your Ground Law provides that a person is justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force, and a person who uses or threatens to use force in accordance with the provision does not have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use such force. Entire cases often turn on this “immanency” component of the Stand Your Ground Laws which is why it is so important to have a lawyer well-versed in both civil and criminal cases to help assist you in battery related charges or claims.

As eluded to in the beginning of this article, Court that it has been held that neither res judicata nor collateral estoppel applied to preclude a victim’s civil prosecution suit alleging assault even though the alleged assailant was previously found to be immune from criminal assault prosecution pursuant to the Stand Your Ground Law since the critical element that was missing as to both doctrines was mutuality of the parties because the State, not the victim, was the opposing party to the assailant in the criminal prosecution. If you have been charged by the State with Battery or believe you have a claim against another as a Plaintiff or have had a claim brought against you as a Defendant, call Meldon Law today for a free consultation at (888) 447 4429.

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