‘Stand Your Ground’ Dispute Heads Into Final Day

May 5, 2017

The Florida Senate remained steadfast Thursday in a dispute with the House about a change to the state's “stand your ground” self-defense law.

Both chambers have broadly supported a bill (SB 128) that would shift a key burden of proof from defendants to prosecutors in “stand your ground” cases.

But with only a day left in the legislative session to reach agreement, the Senate on Thursday refused to go along with a change the House made to the bill. That could jeopardize the bill if the dispute does not get resolved Friday.

The dispute involves a House proposal to require prosecutors in pre-trial “stand your ground” hearings to overcome the asserted immunity sought by defendants through "clear and convincing evidence."

The Senate prefers a higher standard known as "beyond a reasonable doubt," and Senate sponsor Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, moved Thursday to reject the House position.

“This is certainly an issue we debated very intensely during session and now it's time to make a decision,” Bradley said.

Though lawmakers are expected to meet Monday to approve the state budget and budget-related bills, Friday is the final day they plan to consider other legislation. The session was scheduled to end Friday but had to be extended into next week to resolve the budget.

House leaders didn't immediately respond late Thursday about whether the House would accept the Senate position on the “stand your ground” bill.

But Rep. Jason Fischer, a Jacksonville Republican who is a co-sponsor of the House proposal, said, "I'm very optimistic that we will get it to the governor's desk."

The overall issue stems from a Florida Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that said defendants have the burden of proof to show they should be shielded from prosecution under the "stand your ground" law.

In "stand your ground" cases, pre-trial evidentiary hearings are held to determine whether defendants should be immune from prosecution. The bill would shift the burden from defendants to prosecutors in the pre-trial hearings.