The Sun Sentinel reports that Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Oftedal recently granted a motion to dismiss first degree murder charges that had been filed against a 65 year-old individual named Michael Monahan. Although the Order is not publicly available, the Sun Sentinel reports that Judge Oftedal concluded that the case involved “a clear case of justified force” under Florida’s “Stand your Ground” statute. As a result of the Order, Monahan was released from jail.
While the Court’s Order may not sit well with the family of the victim, the fact remains that the Court followed the procedure which is required by law. For starters, let’s consider what the statute actually says. The Stand Your Ground statute provides,
776.032 Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.—
(1) A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012
, s. 776.013
, or s. 776.031
is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10
(14), who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer. As used in this subsection, the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.
(2) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force as described in subsection (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.
(3) The court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of any civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant is immune from prosecution as provided in subsection (1).
Basically, section 1 of the statute states that if a person is justified in using force under sections 776.012, 776.013, or 776.031, to defend himself or another, his residence, or a member of his family or household, then that person is generally immune from criminal prosecution. So, the issue becomes: who determines whether the force used was justified?
In a previous post, I noted that, pursuant to the Florida Supreme Court case of Dennis v. State, 51 So. 3d 456, 457 (Fla. 2010), courts (that is, Judges) are required to make that determination whenever a defendant files a motion to dismiss in reliance on the Stand Your Ground statute, and that the determination is to be made prior to any trial. The Sun Sentinel report on Michael Monahan’s case shows the practical effect of how the Dennis decision requires courts to handle motions to dismiss filed under the Stand Your Ground Statute. If a court grants the motion to dismiss, the Defendant goes free.
The Florida Supreme Court only issued the Dennis decision in December of 2010. Since the statute can be such a strong weapon in the criminal defense arsenal, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Florida criminal defense attorneys will continue to file motions to dismiss based on the Stand Your Ground statute in cases where their client’s use of force becomes an issue. Even if a motion to dismiss is denied, the mere filing of the motion should preserve the issue for any appeal down the road.