Petition for Writ of Prohibition, Robin C. Lemonidis, Judge.
Michael Panella, of Panella Law Firm, Orlando, for
Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Douglas T. Squire,
Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, for Respondent.
1892, the Florida Supreme Court explained that
one's home is the castle of defense for himself and his
family, and that an assault upon it with an intent to injure
him, or any of them, may be met in the same way as an assault
upon himself, or any of them, and that he may meet the
assailant at the threshold, and use the necessary force for
his and their protection against the threatened invasion and
harm . . . .
Wilson v. State, 11 So. 556, 561 (Fla. 1892). Under
this common law "castle doctrine," a person's
home was his or her ultimate sanctuary. If violently attacked
there, an individual had no duty to retreat, could stand his
or her ground, and could use such force, even deadly force,
as necessary to avoid death or great bodily harm or to
prevent the commission of a felony. Falco v. State,
407 So.2d 203, 208 (Fla. 1981); Danford v. State, 43
So. 593, 596-97 (Fla. 1907). The applicability of these
more-than-century-old principles, as now broadened and
codified in Florida's present "Stand Your
Ground" laws,  is before us today.
HAPPENED IN THIS CASE-
John Derossett, a sixty-five-year-old retired General Motors
autoworker, owned a home in Brevard County, Florida.
Derossett's adult niece, Mary Ellis, lived with him in
this home. Derossett had no criminal record, worked part-time
as a security guard at Port Canaveral, and lawfully possessed
a concealed weapons permit. He had also apparently taken a
firearms training course.
August 20, 2015, at approximately 9:30 p.m., Ellis answered a
knock on the front door. As she opened the door, a man
reached inside the threshold of the house, grabbed her arm,
and began pulling Ellis out of the home and onto the covered
front porch. Ellis struggled to resist her apparent abduction
and screamed to her uncle (Derossett) that she needed help.
At this point, two other men approached to physically assist
the first man in pulling Ellis off the porch of the home and
into the front yard.
having heard his niece's screams for help, hurried from
his bedroom to the front porch. He was armed. One of the
three men saw Derossett rapidly advancing to the front door
with his firearm and announced to the other two men that a
man with a gun was approaching. The three men abruptly
released Ellis, pushing her towards the front door, and
scattered on the front lawn. Derossett immediately came out
of his front door and stood under "the canopy part of
point, Derossett raised his gun, called out to the men, and
fired a warning shot up in the air. The three men, now at
diverse points on Derossett's front yard, and likewise
armed, immediately shot their respective firearms at him.
Derossett fired back. In total, more than forty rounds were
exchanged. Despite being fairly close to each other, because
it was dark at the time, none of the four men engaged in this
incident had a clear view of the others. Derossett and his
niece were both struck by gunfire, as was one of the three
men in Derossett's front yard, who was severely wounded
in the abdomen.
RIGHTS THAT EVENING UNDER FLORIDA'S STATUTORY "STAND
YOUR GROUND" LAWS-
2005, the Florida Legislature enacted a number of statutes
that codified and strengthened individuals' right to
defend themselves and their families. Section 776.013 specifically
addressed the right to defend one's self and family from
attack at home. At the time of the above-described incident,
this statute provided, in pertinent part:
776.013. Home protection; use or threatened use of
deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily
(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of
imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or
herself or another when using or threatening to use defensive
force that is intended or likely to cause death or great
bodily harm to another if:
(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used or
threatened was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully
entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling,
residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed
or was attempting to remove another against that person's
will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and
(b) The person who uses or threatens to use defensive force
knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible
entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had
. . . .
(4) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts
to enter a person's dwelling, residence, or occupied
vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit
an unlawful act involving force or violence.
(5) As used in this section, the term:
(a) "Dwelling" means a building or conveyance of
any kind, including any attached porch, whether the building
or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile,
which has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed
to be occupied by people lodging therein at night.
(b) "Residence" means a dwelling in which a person
resides either temporarily or permanently or is visiting as
an invited guest.
plain language of the above-cited portions of section 776.013
arguably evinces that the actions taken by Derossett that
evening were well within his statutory right to stand his
ground. Notably, Derossett was in his dwelling with his
niece, Ellis, who was also a resident there. The first man
reached inside the threshold of the front door and forcibly
removed Ellis from the home. The three men were then standing
immediately on the attached front porch where they removed
Ellis onto the yard against her will. Thus, these men had
just been in Derossett's dwelling, as that term is
defined in section 776.013(5)(a), and had removed Ellis.
See id. § 776.013(1)(a). Moreover, their
collective actions in first reaching inside the threshold of
the front door and forcibly removing Ellis from the home, and
in then physically removing Ellis off the front porch, were
presumed to have been done with the intent to commit an
unlawful act involving force or violence. See id.
under section 776.013(1)(b), Derossett, as the person using
the defensive force, had reason to believe that an unlawful
and forcible act had just occurred to his niece. Thus, under
subparagraph (1) of this statute, Derossett was entitled to
the presumption that he had a reasonable fear of imminent
peril of death or great bodily harm to his niece when he
first fired his warning shot as part of a rapid sequence of
ongoing events beginning with the removal of Ellis from his
dwelling against her will. Lastly, and not insignificantly,
assuming for the sake of argument that the alleged abduction
or kidnapping of Ellis had "ended" when the three
men, cognizant that Derossett was quickly coming to his front
door with a firearm, released her and scattered onto the
front yard, Derossett had no duty to retreat. He was within
his rights to use the deadly defensive force that he used