Florida Defense of Property

Since the brutal killing of George Floyd, we’ve witnesses demonstrations and protests all across the country demanding social justice and an end to racism in policing. Unfortunately, some of these protests have resulted in property damage and have spawned counter-protests in the form of armed civilian militias. Before you take out your AR-15, you should consider Florida’s law on defending property and understand the consequences of trying to be a “patriot defending our country”.

Florida Law

Florida law permits the use of non-deadly force or threat of non-deadly force if you reasonably believe that conduct is necessary to prevent the other person’s trespass, interference with or damage to property. The property you’re defending must be lawfully in your possession or in the possession of a member of your immediate family or household or of a person whose property you have a legal duty to protect. This analysis applies only to the defense of personal property or real property, other than a person’s home.

Legal problems for right-wing militias

The most recent example of a counter-protest gone wrong happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin when 17-year-old, Kyle Rittenhouse, drove across state lines with his AR-15 and shot 3 protesters. If this happened in Florida, the affirmative defense of Defense of Property would fail for 3 reasons:

  1. Degree of Force: Defense of Property only permits the use of non-deadly force. Needless to say, shooting an AR-15 doesn’t fit that criteria. Moreover, simply threatening to use your AR-15 doesn’t fit that criteria either. You cannot use or threaten to use a gun or other deadly force in defending commercial property.
  2. Whose Property: Defense of Property only permits you to defend your property, the property of your family or household member, or property you have a legal duty to protect. Kyle Rittenhouse was not defending his own property. He was not defending the property of his family or anyone in his household. And, no, the kid from Illinois clearly and unequivocally had no legal duty to defend anyone’s property in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Even if he used non-deadly force, his Defense of Property claim would fail because you are not legally justified in defending a random person’s property simply because the militia you joined was on a “patriotic” power trip.
  3. Reasonable Belief: Defense of Property requires the person to reasonably believe the force is necessary to stop the wrongful behavior. This analysis is less concrete, but I’d find it tough to sell that any of the actions of a radical right-wing militia are reasonable. We have law enforcement for a reason. It is their duty and responsibility to investigate and prevent unlawful conduct. Not yours. It’s also worth noting that protesting is not unlawful conduct. Your Defense of Property argument on this element is a huge stretch.

No matter how mad you are about social justice protests and demonstrations, you should think twice about joining an armed militia. Do not take their legal advice on what you can and cannot do in the street. You have no legal right to defend another random person’s commercial property. And you definitely don’t have the right to do so with an AR-15. Going down that path doesn’t make you a patriot. It makes you a criminal.