Just because a criminal defendant might be granted immunity under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, that doesn’t mean they’ll be automatically protected from potential civil repercussions, the Florida Supreme Court said in a ruling released Thursday.
The seven justices unanimously found that separate determinations are needed in criminal versus civil court when it comes to a defendant’s claim that they acted lawfully in self-defense when fearing for their life or property.
The ruling was prompted by a use-of-force case in Tampa involving a violent confrontation between two men at a local bar.
According to the Supreme Court’s ruling: Ketan Kumar attacked Nirav Patel “without provocation,” and Patel then struck Kumar’s face with a cocktail glass, blinding Kumar in his left eye.
Patel was granted immunity from prosecution in the criminal case that resulted from the incident. When Kumar later filed a civil complaint against him, Patel cited his “Stand Your Ground” immunity from the criminal case in asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit.
After the circuit court denied that request, Patel filed a petition challenging the decision with the Second District Court of Appeal. The appeals court in 2016 ruled state law “guarantees a single ‘Stand Your Ground’ immunity determination for both criminal and civil actions” — a finding which conflicted with a ruling two years prior in the Third District.
The Florida Supreme Court, in its ruling Thursday, settled the legal dispute by declaring the Second District was wrong in saying there was a “guarantee” of a singular immunity.
Among the reasons Justice C. Alan Lawson cited in the 10-page decision: The Legislature’s recent change to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which shifted the burden of proof in criminal cases so that prosecutors now have to prove before a trial why a defendant cannot claim immunity.
“The 2017 amendment to the Stand Your Ground law creating different burdens of proof for criminal and civil immunity not only implies an understanding that separate immunity determinations will be made but also forecloses any argument, going forward, that the criminal ‘determination’ could ever be binding in the civil proceeding,” wrote Lawson, who was appointed to the bench by Gov. Rick Scott in December.
Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law was first enacted in 2005. It allows individuals to use deadly force in self-defense, with no obligation to retreat or flee.