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Fifth Circuit Reverses Murder Conviction of Florida Man Who Shot Deputy Defending His Niece


In April, a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Florida man convicted of premeditated first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer while discharging a firearm was innocent due to Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law in an important ruling reinforcing homeowners’ rights when it comes to Florida’s laws on justifiable use of force. Specifically, the court ruled that the defendant, John DeRossett, was legally in the process of repelling the sheriff’s deputy, who was in plainclothes and failed to identify himself as a police officer, in order to protect his niece, who he thought was being kidnapped due to the deputy’s use of force.

The case highlights the ‘correct’ use and application of the Castle Doctrine; whereby if there is an assault upon an individual and/or their family in one’s home, with an intent to injure any of them, it may be met in the same way and use of necessary force for their protection against threatened invasion and harm. Under the doctrine, a person violently attacked in their home has no duty to retreat and can stand their ground and use force, including lethal force, as necessary to avoid great bodily harm or death to prevent the commission of a felony.

What Happened

In the case at hand, DeRossett’s niece lived with him in his home and was suspected by the local sheriff and deputies of engaging in prostitution (without DeRossett being suspected of participating in the alleged crimes or any other criminal activity). The deputies reportedly engaged in a ‘sting’ operation, whereby they parked on the street in unmarked vehicles, away from the home, and first approached the home and DeRossett’s niece as potential customers. They then proceeded to pull the niece forcibly onto the front porch of the home, whereby DeRossett, who lawfully possessed a concealed weapons permit and had taken a firearms training course, came to her aid and shot a warning shot in the air. At that time, the deputies – instead of identifying themselves as police – dispersed onto the lawn and aimed their guns at DeRossett, and both parties shot at each other. DeRossett also reportedly made a number of verbal statements to the effect of believing that his niece was in the process of being kidnapped.

What Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law Provides For

Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ statute states that an individual is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of great bodily harm to themselves or another or imminent peril of death if an individual was in the process of forcefully entering their residence or attempting to remove another against their will from the residence. However, that presumption does not apply if the person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer as long as the officer identifies themselves.  As a result, even if officers are involved in a sting operation and are in plainclothes, they must still identify themselves before using force that is reasonably likely to cause great bodily harm or imminent peril of death to someone else in a ‘Stand Your Ground’ state like Florida. Citizens are not justified in using deadly force against others if they know or should have known that those using the force are law enforcement officers, or if they are using their homes to further illegal activity. However, the evidence indicates that DeRossett had no idea that the men were law enforcement officers and he himself was not engaging in criminal activity.

If You Have Been Charged with A Crime, Contact West Palm Beach Self-Defense & Defense of Others Attorney William Wallshein for Assistance

If you have been charged with a crime in Florida but were acting in self-defense, our knowledgeable attorneys can help you in court. Contact West Palm Beach criminal attorney William Wallshein to obtain an initial consultation today and find out more.






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