TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Supreme Court has ruled the state's Stand Your Ground Law, which confers immunity in a criminal case, does not necessarily confer immunity in a civil case.
The controversial “Stand Your Ground” law allows individuals to use force to defend themselves when being attacked or if they fear severe bodily harm or death may result if they don't defend themselves.
In the appeal of the case of Ketan Kumar v. Nirav C. Patel 196 So. 3d 468 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016) the Florida high court ruled “We agree with the Third District, which held the Stand Your Ground law does not confer civil liability immunity to a criminal defendant based upon an immunity determination in the criminal case” (order by the Supreme Court of Florida, filed Sept. 28, 2017).
In 2008, at a Tampa bar, Nirav Patel hit Ketan Kumar in the left eye with a glass, causing permanent damage. Patel was charged with felony battery but he filed a petition arguing that he had immunity from prosecution under the Stand Your Ground law. Immunity was granted in that criminal matter.
Kumar then filed a civil suit in circuit court, alleging battery and negligence. Patel argued the Stand Your Ground law applied, and moved for summary judgment, arguing that the same immunity he was granted in the criminal case should apply to the civil case. That motion was denied and an evidentiary hearing was ordered.
Before the hearing took place, according to the supreme court’s order, “Patel filed a petition for writ of prohibition with the second district, arguing that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction over him in the civil case based upon the immunity determination in the criminal case.” The court agreed.
The Third District Court of Appeal had decided in the case of Professional Roofing & Sales, Inc. v. Flemmings, 138 So. 3d 524 (Fla. 3d DCA 2014) that civil liability could not be automatically granted in a Stand Your Ground case. The Supreme Court agreed with the Third Circuit.
In the Kumar v. Patel matter, the court’s opinion noted, “[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.” It also concluded, “Even in a case where the state could not prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant was not entitled to immunity, the criminal defendant may not be able to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he is entitled to immunity in the civil case.”
The court opinion was written by Justice Julie Carlton Lawson with Justices C.J. Labarga, Lewis Pariente, Canady Quince and JJ. Polston concurring.