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Tallahassee, Florida

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Brian Smith
Brian Smith
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"Castle Doctrine" Applied to Road Rage Case

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Prosecutors in St. Lucie County, Florida have used the “Castle Doctrine” in their decision to not pursue manslaughter charges against a woman who stabbed two men during a road rage situation. The two men had been beating her boyfriend after a car accident, but when she tried to intervene, they attacked her. She stabbed one of the attackers with a knife and he later died. A witness to the incident stated that The accused’s boyfriend would have been killed, if she had not intervened.

“If a knife had not been used, he would have been dead,” one witness, Robert Lilly, told investigators. “They did not let up on him at all.”

Prosecutors have used that witness’ statement to support their decision to not prosecute the case.

In October 2005, Florida legislators passed the “Castle Doctrine” law, one of the first states to do so. which gives the occupants of a home or car the right to protect themselves against attack with deadly force. The law presumes that an unlawful intruder into a car or home is there to cause death or great bodily harm. A number of states have followed Florida’s lead in passing what some refer to as a “shoot first, ask questions later” law.

The intent of the “Castle Doctrine”, when applied to intrusions into a home or vehicle, seems sound. Even then, it must be carefully applied to the specific facts of the case. But when the law is applied to situations outside of the “castle”, there is almost certain to be an intesnse scrutiny of the decisions of the prosecution. The “Castle Doctrine” has been put to the test in several Florida cases over the past couple of years (with varying results) and its’ use is expected to increase.

A factor in the St. Lucie County case was that Florida’s legislators have removed the “duty to retreat” aspect of self-defense in criminal cases, concerning any place a person has a lawful right to be, meaning people attacked on a street or in a bar, for instance, are not required to try to run but can fight force with deadly force if they feel their lives are in danger.