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Tom owns a small auto repair and car dealership in Tampa, FL. One night, he was in the shop working on a vehicle when he noticed the headlights of one of his vehicles on in the parking lot. Tom thought this was strange because the property was locked and he was the only person working late.
Tom decided to investigate what was happening. As he approached the vehicle, he noticed a man sitting in the driver's seat. Tom knocked on the window, startling the thief, who immediately put the car in drive and floored it. The thief violently smashed into the other vehicles as he attempted to maneuver out of the parking lot.
I met Tom a few days after this incident in one of my concealed carry courses. Tom wanted to get a gun because of this incident, so I asked him what he would have done if he would have had a firearm that day.
"I would have shot out the tires," Tom said confidently to the class.
"But would that be legal?" I asked Tom.
"Sure, this guy is on my property and he's stealing," Tom replied.
What is Tom legally allowed to do according to Florida concealed carry laws? Let's ask ourselves the big questions.
The Big Questions
How Could This Situation Have Been Avoided?
Tom could have stayed inside and called 911. Tom can quickly identify the vehicle, so the driver won't get very far.
What Self-Defense Options Could Have Been Used?
In my opinion, Tom would have a legal right to physically stop the thief from taking his car, but is the reward worth the risk? The potential reward is that Tom could prevent his property from being stolen. However, the potential risks are much more significant. I would be willing to guess this isn't the first time the thief has stolen a vehicle. He may have even served time in the past. This person could be on drugs or fearful about going back to prison, and you are the one person standing between them and freedom. Is it possible that this individual may be willing to kill you to prevent getting caught? Is it possible the thief may be willing to stab you or beat you to a pulp? I think the answer is yes. You simply never know who you are dealing with, which is why we must carefully balance the risks and rewards before confronting anyone.
Does This Scenario Fall Under the Justified Use of Force Statute?
Unfortunately, many people have a false belief that they can legally shoot someone merely because they are trespassing. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Florida Statutes 776.012 (2) A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be.
Do you have a reasonable belief of imminent death? No, the thief is attempting to steal a vehicle and is not attempting to kill you.
Do you have a reasonable belief of great bodily harm? This depends. If Tom was standing in front of the vehicle when the thief floored it, it would be very reasonable to believe he would be the victim of great bodily harm. However, as I mentioned previously, Tom approached near the driver’s side window.
Do you have a reasonable belief of the imminent commission of a forcible felony? There are 16 forcible felonies found in Florida law, and trespassing is not one of them.
Is the use of deadly force necessary? No.
Are you in a place where you have a right to be? Yes.
Are you engaged in criminal activity? No.
Clearly, the use or threatened use of deadly force would not be justified under the Justifiable Use of Force Statute, 776.012(2), in my opinion.
Let's see what Florida Statute 776.031(1) has to say about the use of force in this situation.
Florida Statutes 776.031 Use or threatened use of force in defense of property.—A person is justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate the other's trespass on, or other tortious or criminal interference with, either real property other than a dwelling or personal property, lawfully in his or her possession or in the possession of another who is a member of his or her immediate family or household or of a person whose property he or she has a legal duty to protect. A person who uses or threatens to use force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use such force.
In my opinion, Tom would have a legal right to fistfight the car thief, but he would not have a right to threaten the use of a firearm or to shoot out the tires. In order for Tom to have a legal right to use a gun, he would have to meet the requirements of section 2 of this statute.
Florida Statutes 776.031 (2) A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force only if he or she reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.
Everything boils down to this question: Was Tom's only option to stay alive to pull out his firearm and kill the thief? I believe the answer would be no.
Where Is the Line in the Sand?
The line in the sand would be the point at which Tom would have no other choice but to pull out his weapon and use deadly force. For me, this would be if the thief were attempting to steal a vehicle with my children in it. In this scenario, the reward of saving my children outweighs the risk of potentially getting killed. However, in this scenario, my line in the sand would be if the thief brandished a weapon or attempted to run me over with the vehicle.
What Would You Do?
What would you do if you caught a thief attempting to steal your vehicle? Would you call 911 and be a good witness, or would you try to stop the thief physically? How would you balance the potential risk of confronting the thief with the reward? What would you do?
What Mistakes Were Made?
I think the significant error Tom made in this situation was that he had a false belief about when he was allowed to discharge his firearm.
Thankfully, Tom did not have a gun that day because if he had, he might be in a whole lot of trouble right now.
Hopefully, Tom bought my book, Florida Concealed Carry Law, and has learned from our discussion, and he will be better prepared in case a situation like this happens again.
That's all I have for today. Talk to you soon,
Ryan G. Thomas
P.S. You’re one step away from getting your Florida concealed carry permit….FAST & EASY…
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