0285 – Three Important Lessons to Take From Sanford, FL

There has been a lot of talk in the past week or so about self-defense and the law.  I’m sure that many of you are aware of the situation in Florida where Martin was killed by a C.O.P. named Zimmerman.  You know that this is not a current events show, however, there are times when current events need to motivate us to learn more about a set of circumstances.  In this case we need to understand the legal burdens that are upon us when we realize that our lives are worth defending.



I am not an attorney.  Not in the state of Ohio, your state, or any other state.  I never went to law school.  I did have a lunch of fish and chips and beer with a lawyer once.  My point is that you need to seek legal experts to help you understand self-defense and the law.  You need to read the law, you need to get an attorney that can help you to interpret the law that you read.  You need to join the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network.  You need to do all of this before you find yourself in a self-defense situation.

Lesson: 1 Ignore the media, they don’t know what they are talking about.

Understanding Legal Terms:

It is imperative to understand the meaning of the words that are so often throw around when it comes to self defense and the law.  The important part is UNDERSTAND.  We must know what they mean in the context that they will be applied by a court of law when we use force to defend ourselves.

In general, the media doesn’t understand and those that do aren’t very interested in helping you, or the general public understand.  They are interested in ratings.  We are going to chase our tails here for a bit, but stick with me.  I will get back to the jack wad media and we will talk about a lot of important stuff along the way.

Lets look at two terms that are being throw around in reference to the situation in Sanford, Florida.

Florida Law related to Justifiable Use of Force, 776.013 Home Protection; use of deadly force or great bodily harm.

Castle Doctrine

(4) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.

(5) As used in this section, the term:

(a) “Dwelling” means a building or conveyance of any kind, including any attached porch, whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed to be occupied by people lodging therein at night.
(b) “Residence” means a dwelling in which a person resides either temporarily or permanently or is visiting as an invited guest.
(c) “Vehicle” means a conveyance of any kind, whether or not motorized, which is designed to transport people or property.
The Castle Doctrine can be traced back to 1215 and provides the presumption that when someone forcibly enters your home it is done with the intent of harming the occupant(s).  Castle Doctrine serves to simplify the criminal defense of individuals who are forced to defend themselves in their homes.  It is not as some believe a blank check to shoot anyone who does not belong in your home.

Stand Your Ground

(3) 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.

Stand Your Ground Laws are now on the books in more than 20 US States and just like the Castle Doctrine the law makes the affirmative defense of self-defense situations more strtaight forward.  I have heard Stand Your Ground laws refered to as castle doctrine laws extended to wherever you are lawfully engaged.  I do not agree with this interpretation.  Castle Doctrine establishes intent while Stand Your Ground eliminates Preclusion.  Get ready, here comes more legalese!

What Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground Laws Do For You

Before we can go in depth into how these laws help those who lawfully defend themselves we must look at some more concepts and terms.

Criminal legal System:  Innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  The burden of proof is on the PROSECUTOR to show that someone is guilty of a crime.

In self-defense, we admit that we committed the crime and offer up a legitimate reason for why the commission of a crime was acceptable.  WE (the DEFENSE) must prove why it was O.K. to commit the crime.

In general we must prove 4 things to prove that we should be excused for killing another person when we claim self-defense:

  1. Ability – Deals with the capacity to injure.  The person we defended ourselves had the real physical ability to hurt us.  To justify lethal force that ability must include the capacity to cause great bodily harm or death.  A person with a knife, gun, bat, or other implement that can be used as a weapon certainly has the physical capacity to cause serious harm.
  2. Opportunity – Deals with time and distance.  The threat must be immediate.  A dirt bag with a knife 5 feet away has the opportunity to harm us but if we insert a 12′ fence topped with razor wire between us, the threat is no longer immediate.  Switch the knife for a handgun and the threat is again immediate.
  3. Intent (Jeopardy) – Deals with intentions to cause harm.  Every day I interact with and am surrounded by hundreds of people who have the physical capacity (ability) and are within distances where they can immediately cause great bodily harm to me or my loved ones and I could easily cause harm to them.  Lucky for them and for me, neither of us mean any harm.  We lack intent.  We can begin to try to understand intent by looking at body language, words, previous actions or patterns of behavior but we can’t read minds.
  4. Preclusion – Deals with exhausting all other options.  Using lethal force can only be used as a tool of last resort.  You must do anything and everything else that doesn’t put you at risk BEFORE self-defense is an option.  Talk your way out of it, run away, etc.  If there is a way to avoid lethal force without harming you, you have to give it a try.
To successfully use self-defense as a defense you must prove ALL 4 of the above concepts.  If you fail on any of the 4 then you cannot claim self-defense.
Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground Laws have a distinct benifit for those that need to defend themselves.
Stand Your Ground laws eliminate the burden to try all else.  the law does not require lawfully engaged people to talk it out, or run away before they defend themselves.  This reduces your burden of proof in court by 25%.
Castle Doctrine assumes intent and often many experts argue preclusion as well.  If you no longer have to prove preclusion or intent, your burden has been reduced by 50%.
These two laws serve to simplify the affirmative defense of self-defense practitioners.  It eliminates much of the second guessing or Monday morning QB that can take place when it comes to self-defense and the courts.
The media is asking the question, “Is Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law the reason Martin is dead?”  The answer is a simple no.  Laws don’t pull triggers.  It may be a reason Zimmerman stays out of jail.  The media continues to focus on the wrong thing.  Preclusion is out of the picture.  Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law is on the books and even if it is changed in the future it will have no bearing on this event.  However, I illustrated above that ABILITY, OPPORTUNITY and INTENT (Jeopardy) can have an influence.  Instead of acting on political motives, maybe the media should focus on the facts of the case and deal will AOJ?

Lesson 2:  You need to know your laws BEFORE you find yourself in a self-defense situation.

When we think about training many folks focus on putting rounds in the x ring.  I’m not even going to touch on what I think is so wrong about that concept.

People Focus on the sexy stuff.  Guns, shooting, fighting skills.  They are all important but we must remember that self-defense is a delicate balance.  If we react improperly we could maintain our life yet sacrifice  our freedom.  I understand the concept that it is better to be judged than carried.  Wouldn’t you agree that it is better to experience neither?

When we are faced with a lethal threat we will not be thinking about the law.  Our bodies physiological response to violence will likely preclude this kind of higher level thinking.  This is a good thing as it will allow us to focus on what we need to focus on, defending our lives.

This means that we need to do a couple of things:

  • We need to understand the laws
  • We need to integrate our understanding into our training
  • We need to include legal considerations into our scenarios

Lesson 3:  The Stand Your Ground law doesn’t mean you should.

Our first point showed that Stand Your Ground Laws lower the burden of an individuals affirmative defense.  I firmly believe that its benefits end there.

Just because you can stand your ground doesn’t mean you should:

  • The only way to avoid the consequences of violence is to avoid violence.
  • If you can exit the situation, exit the situation.
    • Avoid injury
    • Avoid using lethal force
    • Avoid criminal charges
    • Avoid civil legal issues
    • Avoid moral and ethical issues
  • Self-defense is about need.
    • Not about what the law allows you to do
    • About what you need to do
I am all about self-defense.  I encourage people to prepare for self-defense so don’t think I’m saying self-defense should be avoided.  When self-defense is needed, it is time to flip the switch and respond with the maximum amount of force allowable by law.  We need to prepare for that eventuality.

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

These two are really the only ones who know all the details about what happened on Feb. 26.  Stand Your Ground is in the books, it is a good law and it has nothing to do with whether Zimmerman did right or wrong from a legal standpoint.  AOJ?  That is the real question and the real take away might be that just because you don’t have to run doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.


6 replies
  1. Randall
    Randall says:


    Excellent breakdown of the factors at work in these self-defense scenarios!

    I think if anything positive can come out of the Sanford incident, it is that there are those who will think about what happened in this situation and reassess their own self-defense plans. I hope many will make a commitment not only to be fully prepared to protect themselves and their families, but to understand the legal implications of their actions.


    • PaulCarlson
      PaulCarlson says:

      We have to look for those kinds of silver linings don’t we Randall. I feel it is imperative to learn from other scenarios, try and put ourselves in other shoes and determine what the most reasonable actions would have been for us at the time and what the consequences of those actions could be.

      Man, It’s hot down here! Send me an email with your days off and lets get together!


  2. Rick
    Rick says:


    Outstanding breakdown on the various aspects of this case and the applicability (or lack thereof) of Stand your Ground (or “Shoot First” as the liberal media and Rep John Conyers (MI-D) is calling it – that really chaps my ass BTW) and Castle Doctrine.

    I would add that another very important take away from the case is to not insert yourself into a situation if you don’t have to. In this case both parties inserted themselves into the confrontation whereas if either of them had either stayed in the car or whatever Zimmerman was in or walked away in the case of Martin the story wouldn’t have turned out the way it did and Martin would have served the rest of his school suspension and been back to class.

    There are many cases where this is evident. Recently there was a bodega that was robbed in Philly or New Jersey (I can’t remember). At any rate, shots were fired between the robber and the owner, the owner was killed and the robber was injured, dropped his gun and ran out of the store. 2 bystanders were in the store when it happened. One bystander grabbed the owners gun and tried to go after the robber but what he didn’t know is the other bystander was a lookout man/accomplice for the robber who grabbed the robbers gun and killed bystander #1. If bystander #1 didn’t get a sudden dose of heroism he would have gone home to his family with a story to tell. Otherwise they had to go ID him at the morgue.

    Whenever someone is involved in a self defense shooting and even if everything goes 100% right, there are many things that will ruin the rest of that persons life.

    For me, I am not going to purposely put myself in a situation where the next 20 seconds dictates the next 20 years or more of my life.

    That being said, if someone comes after me or my family I’m going to do everything I can do stop the situation and I am always prepared to do so. Am I going to go to the rescue of the 7-11 owner whose being robbed, not necessarily unless the threat turns to me and mine.

    Keep up the great work.


    • PaulCarlson
      PaulCarlson says:

      Hey Rick –
      I was intentionally pretty vague about Zimmerman and his actions mainly because we really don’t know what happened. We certainly don’t want to go looking for trouble, but at the same time if we run every time trouble comes knocking pretty soon all we are going to see is that trouble.

      I think you and I are on the same page. Quite simply, there is nothing that will stand in the way of me protecting myself and my family. Nothing. The best response can only be our best reasonable appraisal at the time. When it is time to fight, I will be ready and I know you will be too!

      Thanks for the comments man. I hope all is going well with you and yours!

  3. Rick
    Rick says:

    After reading your post again, your Lesson #3 lines up with what I was saying in my previous post. At any rate, we still agree 100% on this issue.



  4. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    Great commentary and helpful breakdown of the issues. I have been trying to convince friends and family to ignore the media coverage…. so agree with all of your points there.

    Just wanted to add an example situation that changes the equation on Ability (and intent) is if an unarmed bad guy tries to take your firearm from you. There was a recent case here in Washington where this came into play, and the police didn’t file charges because they believed from the evidence the bad guy did try to rush and take the gun. Of course in a case where there is only one witness left alive, it can be difficult to reach a clear conclusion.


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