Attention to detail is an important skill in many walks of life, including criminal defense. As the Second District Court of Appeal’s recent ruling in Talley v. State makes clear, even a seemingly insignificant issue like a stray comma in written jury instructions can deprive a criminal defendant of a fair trial.
Douglas Talley was charged with felony battery stemming from an altercation with JM, the alleged victim. At trial, JM testified that he felt Talley stab him twice with a sharp object without provocation. JM then punched Talley and pushed him away. Talley claimed self-defense, however, alleging that JM attacked him first. According to Talley, JM started the fight by punching Talley in the jaw and was injured as the men wrestled against a chain-linked fence.
At the close of evidence, the trial court instructed the jury on self-defense and the related “stand your ground” law. The Court explained that Talley would be justified in using non-deadly force against JM if he reasonably believed it necessary to defend against JM’s imminent use of unlawful force against Talley. The Court further instructed that if Talley was not breaking the law and was attacked by JM in a place where Talley had a right to be, “he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm.”
The jury found Talley guilty and he was sentenced to more than 68 months in jail.
The Second District reversed the decision on appeal, however, finding that the trial court erred in providing its “stand your ground” instruction. Specifically, the trial court added one single comma to the statutory explanation of this defense, set forth in Section 776.013, Florida Statutes.
The trial court: Talley “had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believed…”
Section 776.013: A defendant “has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes…
As the Second District explained, the additional comma in the trial court’s instruction could cause a reader to believe that Talley could defend himself only if JM was using deadly force. Meanwhile, the statutory language makes clear that a defendant can stand his ground in response to a show of either deadly or non-deadly force. Indeed, according to the Court, the prosecution relied on the erroneous instruction in its closing statement to the jury, during which a prosecutor questioned whether Talley was faced with deadly force when he allegedly stabbed JM.
Self-defense and stand your ground are just two of the defenses available to a person charged with battery and other similar crimes in Florida. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, it is imperative to have a qualified, experienced attorney representing you. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine are experienced in handling a wide range of criminal cases, throughout the state. Contact us to schedule a confidential consultation.
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