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Using Deadly Force When Your Doorway is Being Breached
Understanding Correct Meanings from the Wording of the Law
The main objective of this Florida Gun & Self-Defense article is to educate gun owners about gun law and self-defense law. Ignorance of the state and federal laws is not an excuse for unintentionally breaking those laws. It is gun owner’s responsibility to learn and abide by the law, and practice safe gun handling accordingly. I am not a lawyer, but have been and currently still am engaged in, the study of Use-of-Force Florida Law and Florida Gun Law. The following content is from that education.
Start by implementing Colonel Jeff Cooper’s, Four Rules for Safe Firearms Handling. Mistakes will not occur by doing so. One, treat all guns as if they are always loaded with a round in the chamber, even when the gun is empty. Two, never point the muzzle at anything you ‘don’t’ want to destroy. Three, keep your finger off the trigger until your gun sights are on the intended target. Four, always be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
In addition, I would like to add a fifth point, when you pull the trigger, think of all bullets as having a prosecutor and a very expensive lawyer attached to them. Therefore, use your gun lawfully. If you are unsure of any situations regarding gun usage or handling or what is lawful or unlawful, please refrain from public conceal carrying of your firearm until you have proper training. Contact me, and I will point you in the right direction to give you the confidence too safely, and legally, operate your firearm.
Today’s firearms focus will be, Home Protection, Using Deadly Force. FL SS 776.013. I generally covered this statute in my July 26 article on “Stand Your Ground & Castle Doctrine Laws”. But today I’d like to examine a part of this statute which addresses an event where someone is beating on a door of your home, or window of your automobile, but has ‘not’ broken through the door or window yet, and is escalating their violent force on the door or window to the point where you believe they might succeed in breaking through. What action can you take which is legal, or illegal?
The title of this law is, “Home protection; use or threatened use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.” Florida statute 776.013 (2) (a) (b) - (2) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using or threatening to use defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:
(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used or threatened was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and
(b) The person who uses or threatens to use defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.
Subsection (a) provides examples of places with secured entryways, ‘dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle’ and for brevity; I will be referring to all three as “Entryways”. And I will use the term “Breach” to represent the following situations and actions; “process of unlawfully and forcefully entering” and “unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring”. Above I underlined the sections of the law, which I will be attempting to define accurately.
If a person is violently beating on the entryway to the degree of violence that you believe a breach is about to occur, a decision must be made as to whether the attacker is a deadly force threat or a non-deadly force threat as they are in the process of using force on your secured entryway.
According to the wording of the statute, if you reasonably believe an unlawful and forcible entry was occurring, or the attacker was in the process of entering, you could reasonably shoot the threat through the door, window, wall or barrier, if the attacker was armed with a deadly weapon, even if he had not yet fully broken through the secured entryway.
Any act of self-defense must meet all five qualification for a legal claim of self-defense to be available as a legal defense in court. This is true under Florida’s Castle Doctrine law, which applies to your home, dwelling, residence, and vehicle. Of the five self-defense elements required, Avoidance, Innocence, and Imminence, are legally waived under this law and are not factors. Therefore, a person can use deadly force when an deadly-armed forcible intrusion is occurring and before the entryway is breached.
The element of Proportionality becomes a factor if you are unable to determine if the attacker or potential intruder is armed with a deadly weapon. You cannot legally use deadly force against a non-deadly force threat. And simply believing the attack on your entryway “could or might” be deadly in nature due to the level of violence being used on the entryway, might not hold up under legal scrutiny in court and therefore your deadly force action will be judged as unjustified making you legally culpable.
How to determine if deadly force is the intention of the attacker is the question that requires a factual answer. Attackers conceal deadly weapons while attempting to breach entryways but sometimes they reveal a deadly weapon. But when the entryway is breached, the law defines that act, as a deadly force threat, taking the element of Proportionality off the legal table and brings the Castle Doctrine into play, which allows the victim to use deadly force in lawful self-defense.
Where the problem arises is in determination of what constitutes an actual breaching of the doorway.
The fifth element of self-defense is Reasonableness, and it comes into play in this case. The question, which will need to be answered during the legal process is, ‘Did the person using deadly force, do so when a real threat of breaching the entryway was happening?” And is there proof that this was indeed, a real breach in the process of occurring.
For instance, was there evidence the wooden door was damaged enough to be considered compromised? Was the glass in the driver’s door busted out or just cracked, and was the attacker continuing to punch his fist into the window again? What was the level of ability and opportunity of the attacker and level of jeopardy of the victim? When did the threat go from non-deadly to deadly status?
Evidence will determine what the truth of the matter was. The best proof or evidence is video footage with audio. Secondly, an eye witness inside and outside the place of occupancy. Thirdly, proof of damage to entryway. And then there is the wildcard element of personal testimony, and forensic evidence.
If a total breach of the entryway did not occur, law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and ultimately the jury, will have to be shown evidence that proves beyond any reasonable doubt that a forcible entry could or would have occurred immediately as judged from the proof of damage to the entryway. What you considered in the moment to be a certain breach of the entryway might be considered incorrect or in error when the evidence is considered within the element of Reasonableness in your case.
The jury members could possibly say during deliberations, ‘They didn’t have to shoot and kill the attacker because they were under no real threat of death, because the person had not yet fully entered through the entryway and thus, they over reacted.”
If the jury comes to this conclusion, it’s most likely they interpreted the statute subsections (a) and (b), wording, “was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or forcible entry or an unlawful and forcible act was occurring”, to narrowly mean, “Crossing the Threshold of the Secured Entryway”, which would then prove that an absolute breach of the entryway did not occur. In which case you will be found culpable for the killing.
So, because of this possible interpretation of the wording of the law, and the added possibility of an aggressive prosecutor, I suggestion a person should use the safest interpretation possible by which to form a reasoning as to when to use deadly force in this case.
Wait until a complete breach has occurred. Waiting until the entryway is in fact compromised, which enables the person to cross the threshold of the once secured entryway, puts the occupant in an absolute threat of death or grave bodily harm. In this case, the person is completely justified in deadly force to stop the threat against them.
However, there is great risk of death or grave bodily harm if the intruder concealed his deadly weapon while he accomplished the destruction of the entryway. The occupant who waits for a breach before using deadly force has allowed a much greater risk of being shot and killed in this case. The option of shooting through the entryway prior to a breach, without knowing if the attacker is armed, is safer for the occupant but greatly increased prosecutorial risk.
With this unforeseen risk and jeopardy factor, I choose to take the chance of losing the gunfight before I will risk killing someone who is not a deadly threat, resulting in significant time in prison.
Therefore, the following is what I would do in the case of an armed intruder attempting to breach the entryway. If there is time, I will loudly warn the attacker that I will shoot them if they break through the entryway. Then position myself behind cover that can stop a bullet. If that is not possible, I will find a place that conceals where I am, from the sight of the attacker when and if they should breach the entryway. Then I will put my firearm’s sight picture on the entryway and wait for the breach. I will continue to issue loud warnings, informing the attacker they will be shot when they enter. And if there is a ‘safe time to do so I’ll call 911 and use the operator as a witness to the event.
It is best to choose the safest strategy possible, which is to wait until the breach has occurred. It is also true that different jurisdictions interpret the same law differently. It happens all the time. Therefore, it is always the safest strategy when enduring a home or vehicle invasion to wait until the attacker crosses the threshold of the entryway. At that moment, you are under an absolute deadly force threat according to this law.
The moment the entryway breaks open, begin to use deadly force until the threat stops. Practice this scenario, in this manner, until it becomes an automatic action in your mind and body. The lives of yourself and those with you depend on your lawful use of deadly force. Learn and practice competent legal gun usage to remain alive and free from legal culpability.
Today’s article is also published at FloridaGunSelfDefense.com
Florida Gun & Self-Defense offers firearms and self-defense training and education. Single or group classes or customized training is available. For more information, please call Dave Douglass at 863-381-8474
Dave has been a firearms instructor and trainer since 2013. He is skilled in advanced tactical gun and self-defense gun operation, in accordance with Florida gun law and use-of-force self-defense law. He is not a lawyer, but has studied Use-of-Force Law and Gun Law for over ten years. He is an adamant supporter of an original historical literal interpretation of the Second Amendment. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org