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The recent incidents in Aurora, CO and Austin, TX, where so-called peaceful protestors opened fire on fleeing vehicles has got me thinking, could an individual claim that they lawfully used a firearm in defense of others even if the other individual(s) were engaged in criminal behavior?

For example, a vehicle on the highway is surrounded/swarmed by an angry mob of protestors, and they begin beating on the vehicle but without breaching the interior. That would clearly be criminal behavior, but generally not justification for a deadly force response. The driver of the vehicle then panics and attempts to escape by driving though the crowd. Could an individual in that crowd then open fire on the vehicle and subsequently claim that they were legally justified in doing so because they were acting in the defense of the mob, even though the members of the mob were engaged in a criminal act?
 

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The recent incidents in Aurora, CO and Austin, TX, where so-called peaceful protestors opened fire on fleeing vehicles has got me thinking, could an individual claim that they lawfully used a firearm in defense of others even if the other individual(s) were engaged in criminal behavior?

For example, a vehicle on the highway is surrounded/swarmed by an angry mob of protestors, and they begin beating on the vehicle but without breaching the interior. That would clearly be criminal behavior, but generally not justification for a deadly force response. The driver of the vehicle then panics and attempts to escape by driving though the crowd. Could an individual in that crowd then open fire on the vehicle and subsequently claim that they were legally justified in doing so because they were acting in the defense of the mob, even though the members of the mob were engaged in a criminal act?
Great question that I too was pondering just last night. :unsure:
 

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They could claim it. But their failed attempt would not be protected by the stand your ground or self defense laws.


Florida law

(1) Whoever, while committing or attempting to commit any felony or while under indictment, displays, uses, threatens, or attempts to use any weapon or electric weapon or device or carries a concealed weapon is guilty of a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s.
 

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The 2019 Florida Statutes
Title XLVI
CRIMES
Chapter 776
JUSTIFIABLE USE OF FORCE
View Entire Chapter
776.012 Use or threatened use of force in defense of person.—
(1) 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 defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. 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.
(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.
History.—s. 13, ch. 74-383; s. 1188, ch. 97-102; s. 2, ch. 2005-27; s. 3, ch. 2014-195.
 

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The actual "defense of others" portion of the question is easy to answer. When you use force to defend someone else you "stand in their shoes". If they would be legally permitted to use that force to defend themselves, you can use that force to defend them.

So the question really is, if the criminal rioters would be allowed to use lethal force (shooting at an occupied motor vehicle is considered use of lethal force in Florida, even if you're "aiming at the tires") against the driver under the circumstances you described.

If the driver has already driven over a bunch of people and is now fleeing, and no longer a danger to any other rioters, then shooting at them is not a lawful option unless you can articulate an "inordinate risk to society or others" situation that justifies invocation of the common law "fleeing felon rule".

If the driver were plowing through rioters and more rioters were sure to be injured if he continued, those rioters could use lethal force to prevent being run over, so you could use lethal force to prevent them from being run over.

As with anything, an overzealous prosecutor and/or a crappy jury might disagree with any or all of the above.

Under Brian's simplified rules for the use of lethal force, the rioters would not be someone you would use force to protect. My simplified rule is:

"You may use force, up to and including lethal force, if and to the extent that you reasonably believe that if you do not do so you, or another innocent will sustain serious bodily injury or be killed."

Since the rioters are not "innocents" they would not qualify for defense under my rule. The law tends to be more permissive than my simplified rule.
 
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