State v. James

Decision Date17 December 2003
Docket NumberNo. 3D03-2143.,3D03-2143.
Citation867 So.2d 414
PartiesThe STATE of Florida, Petitioner, v. Alexander JAMES, Respondent.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

Charles J. Crist, Jr., Attorney General and Erin K. Zack, Assistant Attorney General, for petitioner.

David Michael Tarlow, for respondent.


Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied March 10, 2004.


The State of Florida has brought this petition for issuance of a writ of certiorari seeking to quash an order of the trial court determining that the respondent/defendant, Alexander James, is entitled to utilize a "castle doctrine" defense and concomitant jury instruction at his upcoming trial for second degree murder. At issue is whether James, who was a social guest or visitor in the home of another at the time of his alleged commission of second degree murder, is entitled to the "castle doctrine" privilege and jury instruction. We conclude that he is not and for the reasons which follow, grant the petition and quash the circuit court's order under review.

Respondent James had been acquainted with a woman named Semantha Beal1 for approximately one week before he came to her apartment on the morning of April 17, 1997. The respondent had been to Beal's apartment once before to assist her in putting together a bed frame. The respondent and Beal had agreed that on April 17 they would travel together from Beal's apartment to the residence of Beal's mother so that James could perform some electrical work there. When James arrived at Beal's apartment, Beal answered the door wearing a black negligee and invited him inside. They engaged in consensual sex and later showered together.

Shortly thereafter, the victim, Larry Ferguson, Beal's allegedly abusive ex-boyfriend, showed up at Beal's apartment. Beal went to the front door and told the victim to leave because she had a boyfriend in her apartment. Beal and the respondent thereafter got dressed to leave.

As Beal and the respondent were exiting the apartment, they spotted the victim who was still waiting outside. The victim grabbed Beal and began to choke her. The respondent intervened to prevent the victim from hurting her. The three ended up back in the apartment. Once there, the respondent and the victim continued to struggle and Beal was able to flee her apartment to telephone for help.2

During the struggle between the respondent and the victim, a gun and the victim's cellular telephone fell to the floor. The respondent picked up the gun and the victim fled into the bedroom. Beal testified during her deposition that as she was running back to her apartment, she saw the respondent standing in the entrance door to the apartment with his back facing her. The respondent extended his right arm up in front of himself and fired a shot through the partially closed bedroom door. The bullet hit the victim in the chest at a downward angle. The victim died a few days later and the respondent was charged with second degree murder.

Prior to jury selection, the state moved in limine to prevent the respondent from arguing that he had no duty to retreat from the apartment prior to resorting to deadly force under the "castle doctrine." The trial court denied the motion, ruling that the respondent, as a guest or invitee, had a greater right to be in the apartment than the victim as a trespasser.3 The state now seeks the issuance of a writ of certiorari quashing this order. We grant the petition.

Both Florida statutory and common law permit the use of deadly force in self-defense if a person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. Weiand v. State, 732 So.2d 1044, 1049 (Fla. 1999). Specifically, section 776.012, Florida Statutes (1995), provides that "a person... is justified in the use of deadly force only if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony." Even under these circumstances, there is still a Florida common law duty to use every reasonable means to avoid the danger, including retreat, prior to using deadly force. Weiand, 732 So.2d at 1049.

The "duty to retreat" rule has an exception, known as the "castle doctrine," which espouses that one is not required to retreat from one's residence, or one's "castle," before using deadly force in self-defense, so long as the deadly force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. Id. Florida courts have defined the castle doctrine as a privilege one enjoys in one's own dwelling place. The Florida Supreme Court has said:

when one is violently assaulted in his own house or immediately surrounding premises, he is not obliged to retreat but may stand his ground and use such force as prudence and caution would dictate as necessary to avoid death or great bodily harm. When in his home he has "retreated to the wall." ... [A] man is under no duty to retreat when attacked in his own home. His home is his ultimate sanctuary.

Id. at 1050 (quoting Hedges v. State, 172 So.2d 824, 827 (Fla.1965)). See also Alday v. State, 57 So.2d 333, 333 (Fla.1952)

("The law authorizes one whose home is assaulted without lawful authority to use such force as is necessary to repel the assailant."); Russell v. State, 61 Fla. 50, 54 So. 360, 361 (1911) ("One attacked in his home need not retreat, and he may use all necessary force to eject the intruder, whom he may kill in doing it, if this extreme measure appears unavoidable."); but see Williamson v. State, 101 Fla. 1219, 133 So. 109, 110 (1931)(denying castle doctrine protection to defendant for homicide committed in residence from which defendant had moved). The castle doctrine privilege of non-retreat is "equally available to all those lawfully residing in the premises, provided, of course, that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm." Weiand, 732 So.2d at 1057.

We have further extended the "castle...

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4 cases
  • State v. Curry
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • December 4, 2013
    ...agree with other courts that have found such a broad extension would encourage the use of deadly force. See, e.g., State v. James, 867 So.2d 414, 417 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.2003) (stating an overly broad extension of the castle doctrine would vitiate the retreat rule.... “[G]ranting castle doctri......
  • State v. Smiley, 4D06-479.
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • April 12, 2006
    ...should Smiley be acquitted at a trial where this instruction is given. See State v. Pettis, 520 So.2d 250 (Fla.1988); State v. James, 867 So.2d 414 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003) (granting certiorari review and quashing order of trial court allowing social guest to use "castle doctrine" self-defense in......
  • De La Hoz v. State, 3D06-466.
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • December 24, 2008
    ...`castle doctrine' privilege to employees in their place of employment, while lawfully engaged in their occupations." State v. James, 867 So.2d 414, 417 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003); Redondo v. State, 380 So.2d 1107, 1110 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980) ("Indeed, the prevailing rule throughout the country among th......
  • Casado v. State, 3D03-7.
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • June 9, 2004
    ...of course, shall be present at resentencing. We reject Casado's self-defense or defense of others contention. See State v. James, 867 So.2d 414 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003). Casado's sentence is reversed and remanded. The cause is otherwise 1. Which reads: "The court shall entertain submissions and e......
2 books & journal articles
  • Crimes and Offenses Defenses to Criminal Prosecutions: Provide That Person Who Is Attacked Has No Duty to Retreat; Provide Immunity from Prosecution
    • United States
    • Georgia State University College of Law Georgia State Law Reviews No. 23-1, September 2006
    • Invalid date
    ...1247 (formerly found at O.C.G.A. 16-3-21(a) (Supp. 2005)) with Fla. Stat. § 776.012 (2004) (repealed Oct. 1,2005). 19. State v. James, 867 So. 2d 414,416 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2003). 20. See id. 21. See Fla. Stat. § 776.032 (2006). 22. Video Recording of Senate Proceedings, Mar. 2, 2006 (rem......
  • Self-Defense and the Suspicion Heuristic
    • United States
    • Iowa Law Review No. 98-1, November 2012
    • November 1, 2012
    ...2009 & Supp. 2012)); West Virginia (W. VA. CODE ANN. § 55-7-22 (LexisNexis 2008)). 223. FLA. STAT. ANN. § 776.012. 224. State v. James, 867 So. 2d 414, 416 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2003). 225. FLA. STAT. ANN. § 776.013(3). Section 776.013(3) provides: A person who is not engaged in an unlawful ......

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