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Hart v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

May 30, 2018

SHANE SCOTT HART, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; John Kastrenakes, Judge; L.T. Case No. 50-2015-CF-003815-AXXX-MB.

          Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Karen E. Ehrlich, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Joseph D. Coronato, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

          Ciklin, J.

         Shane Scott Hart appeals his conviction and sentence for felony battery with a weapon. He argues that the trial court erred in denying his request for an instruction on the justifiable use of non-deadly force. We agree with Hart that the defense evidence supported giving the instruction and that the error was not harmless. Thus, we must reverse and remand for a new trial.

         After a physical altercation with his neighbor, Hart was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon causing great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement. Hart utilized a serrated knife in the altercation, leaving his neighbor with life-threatening injuries, including cuts to the face, neck, and back of the head.

         According to the defense evidence at trial, Hart was involved in a serious car accident several months prior to the altercation, necessitating hospitalization for five days and two surgeries to repair his broken neck. Medical personnel warned him that he could be paralyzed if he fell or moved his neck the wrong way. At the time of the altercation, he was wearing a hard, stabilizing neck brace that limited his mobility. Hart testified that he could not look down and could not turn to the side without "turning my whole body with it pretty much."

         Hart further testified that, while conversing with his neighbor in his neighbor's front yard, he commented on the neighbor's taste in women. The neighbor responded by grabbing Hart's neck brace and moving Hart's body by "kind of thr[owing him] around a little bit back and forth" before pushing him into a grill. While trying to get his balance, Hart felt something "like a handle" on the grill, so he picked it up and swung it at the neighbor. Hart did not know what the object was or how many times he struck the neighbor, and he did not see where the strikes landed. Hart did not intend to hurt the neighbor; he just wanted to get the neighbor off of him. Hart was afraid the neighbor was going to kill or paralyze him.

         The trial court denied Hart's request for an instruction on the justifiable use of non-deadly force, reasoning that the victim was injured in "vital locations on the human body, " and thus, only the instruction on the justifiable use of deadly force was supported by the evidence. The jury returned a verdict for the lesser included offense of felony battery and found that Hart carried, displayed, used, threatened, or attempted to use a weapon.

         On appeal, Hart challenges the trial court's denial of his request for a jury instruction on the justifiable use of deadly force. "The standard of review for jury instructions is abuse of discretion." Garrido v. State, 97 So.3d 291, 294 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012) (quoting Zama v. State, 54 So.3d 1075, 1077 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011)).

         "Where there is any evidence introduced at trial which supports the theory of the defense, a defendant is entitled to have the jury instructed on the law applicable to his theory, " however weak the evidence or improbable the defense. Larsen v. State, 82 So.3d 971, 974 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011) (citation omitted).

"Under Florida law, a person is justified in using deadly force in self-defense only when the person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent one's imminent death or great bodily harm or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony." Cruz v. State, 971 So.2d 178, 182 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007). In contrast, "[n]on-deadly force may be used when and to the extent that a person reasonably believes that the use of force is ...

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