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Florida Supreme Court

Supreme Court mandates separate civil, criminal ‘Stand Your Ground’ hearings

You may still face civil liability for hurting someone even after gaining criminal immunity under the state’s Stand Your Ground law, the Florida Supreme Court decision.

A unanimous court last week mandated separate hearings for criminal and civil cases arising from Stand Your Ground. The law can still protect you from a civil suit, but only after a separate hearing.

The case arose from a Tampa bar fight. According to court documents, Ketan Kumar attacked Nirav Patel, “without provocation.” Patel hit Kumar’s face with a cocktail glass. The glass shattered and Kumar lost sight in his left eye.

Patel faced a charge of felony battery but won immunity from prosecution under the Stand Your Ground law. Kumar sued. Patel, arguing he’d already gained immunity, asked the court to toss the civil case.

The Supreme Court, though, ruled the law requires a separate civil immunity hearing. A law passed last year created different burdens of proof in civil and criminal cases. The law also doesn’t specify a single hearing would cover civil and criminal immunity.

“The 2017 amendment to the Stand Your Ground law creating different burdens of proof for criminal and civil immunity not only implies an understanding that separate immunity determinations will be made but also forecloses any argument, going forward, that the criminal ‘determination’ could ever be binding in the civil proceeding,” Justice Alan Lawson wrote in the court’s 10-page decision.

Steve Romine, Patel’s lawyer, told the Associated Press he was surprised, but not daunted, by the decision.

“The end result here is fine for my client, it’s just now that he’s going to have to endure the hassle and time and cost of having another hearing,” Romine said. “Now we’re going to take up court time again and we’re going to take up his time and everybody else’s time to re-litigate something that I think the Legislature never intended to happen.”

Florida enacted it's “Stand Your Ground” law in 2005. It allows the use of force in self-defense, without obligation to retreat.

The Berman Law Group provides criminal defense representation, among other services.