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Florida Shifts Burden of Proof in 'Stand Your Ground' Cases

June 10, 2017 - 12:00am

Florida is officially shifting the burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases.

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott signed a measure flipping the responsibility onto prosecutors to prove defendants weren’t acting in self-defense during “Stand Your Ground” cases.
The new law would give defendants more protection from prosecution in “Stand Your Ground” cases by requiring prosecutors to prove whether a defendant is entitled to immunity at a pretrial hearing in order to disprove a claim of self-defense immunity. 
The legislation would flip the responsibility onto the prosecutor to prove why a defendant shouldn’t be allowed to use the Stand Your Ground defense in court.
Republicans pushed the burden of proof bill for years but didn’t have much success until this year’s regular legislative session, when lawmakers finally passed the bill along party lines. 
The proposal came on the heels of a  Florida Supreme Court last summer which ruled defendants would be responsible for the burden of proof showing they shouldn’t be prosecuted in “Stand Your Ground” cases.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, filed identical legislation during last year’s legislative session and initially, the bill’s future seemed promising.
The measure had a relatively easy time making its way through the Senate, but it did not fare as well in the House, where it stalled out in the House Justice Committee, flopping due to a 6-6 vote.
This year state reps pushed the bill through the Legislature once and for all. Rep. bobby Payne, R-Palatka spearheaded the bill in the House while Bradley once again sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law has been on the books since 2005, but it garnered national attention in 2014 during the Trayvon Martin case, where defendant George Zimmerman claimed he was using self-defense when he shot the black teenager to death in Florida. Zimmerman was acquitted for the crime.

Opponents of the measure feared the new law would ramp up gun violence statewide, especially for minorities.

“Expanding Stand Your Ground would send a clear message to communities of color in Florida – that we are not welcome or safe in this state," said Lucy McBath, whose son Jordan Davis was killed by a man claiming Stand Your Ground defense. 

"This new law will only encourage more violence, making it easier for hate-motivated gun criminals to avoid prosecution," McBath said. "More than 8,000 gun-related hate crimes take place in our country every year, and now with this already deadly law expanded, I fear even more violence for Florida’s marginalized communities. The citizens of Florida deserve better than someone who kowtows to the gun lobby."

Supporters of the bill said the new law is criticial to protect Floridians’ right to self-defense. Pro-gun groups like the National Rifle Association have long supported the measure, saying it’s a vital protection for gun owners who might need to use their weapon for self-defense.
The NRA said the state’s newest law was a boon to the rights of owners and was a reversal of a bad policy passed by the Supreme Court years ago.
“When prosecutors and judges use procedures to circumvent the rights of law-abiding people and the will of the Legislature, it cannot be tolerated,” NRA past president and current lobbyist Marion Hammer said. “Procedures do not have the weight of law and the Legislature and the Governor have erased their abusive procedures in self-defense cases and have legislatively made sure these rights are reinstated.”


Reach reporter Allison Nielsen by email at or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.

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