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Florida Court of Appeals: Prison Guards Can Raise “Stand Your Ground” Defense

Florida Court of Appeals: Prison Guards Can Raise “Stand Your Ground” Defense

by Matt Clarke

On March 28, 2014, a Florida Court of Appeals held that a former Department of Corrections guard charged with aggravated battery for assaulting a prisoner was entitled to pursue a “stand your ground” defense pursuant to § 776.032, Florida Statutes.

While employed as a guard at the Lake Correctional Institution, Brad Heilman was involved in a physical altercation with prisoner Duane Royster. Royster suffered serious injuries, including multiple facial fractures, and Heilman was fired several days after the August 27, 2011 incident.

He was subsequently charged with aggravated battery and released on $5,000 bond. He then filed a motion asking the trial court to grant a hearing and dismiss the charge based on the state’s “stand your ground” statute, which provides immunity for people who use force in self-defense. The trial court denied the motion and hearing, citing State v. Caamano, 105 So.3d 18 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012). Heilman filed a petition for writ of prohibition in the Court of Appeals.

The appellate court found that Caamano did not apply. In Caamano, a police officer tried to use a “stand your ground” defense after being charged with attempted battery during the course of an arrest. The Caamano court held there were other statutes specifically preventing the prosecution of a police officer for justifiable use of force; therefore, those statutes took precedence.

There are no similar statutes that apply to prison guards. Instead, § 944.35(1)(a), located in the corrections code, specifies the situations under which a guard is authorized to use force and provides for disciplinary action, dismissal and/or criminal penalties for unauthorized use of force against prisoners. Differentiating between authorizing the use of force and justifying the use of force, the Court of Appeals held that § 944.351(l)(a) did not preclude a “stand your ground” defense for guards.

The Court therefore granted the petition, issued the writ of prohibition and remanded the case to the trial court to allow Heilman to raise a “stand your ground” defense. See: Heilman v. State, 135 So.3d 513 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 5th Dist. 2014).


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Related legal case

Heilman v. State