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Florida Considers Bill To Make It Easier To Use The ‘Stand Your Ground’ Defense

A bill in the Florida Legislature would make it easier to mount a 'stand your ground' claim.
A bill in the Florida Legislature would make it easier to mount a 'stand your ground' claim.
A bill in the Florida Legislature would make it easier to mount a 'stand your ground' claim.
Credit Creative Commons via Flickr / Mark Goebel (https://flic.kr/p/5A7n4k)
A bill in the Florida Legislature would make it easier to mount a 'stand your ground' claim.

A new bill under consideration by the Florida Legislature would make it easier for defendants to use the "Stand Your Ground" defense when faced with use of force charges. 

For years, Florida laws have  had provisions for self-defense immunity, protecting people who use force in self-defense from being prosecuted. There are certain restrictions on where and when you are justified in using various kind of force in self-defense.

In 2005, Florida passed "Stand Your Ground" legislation, which greatly expanded the circumstances in which an individual could use justifiable force. Florida Statute 776.012 expanded the application of self-defense to cases when you might have an opportunity to retreat.

George Zimmerman used this defense successfully in avoiding punishment after shooting and killing Trayvon Martin in 2012.

Zimmerman and his legal team mounted this defense at trial, but they could have used it at a pretrial immunity hearing.

And a new bill that has passed committee muster in the state Senate could make it easier to get immunity for claims of self-defense including in situations of stand your ground, making that option more attractive for defense attorneys and their clients

The way it works now, if you are arrested for killing someone, you can request an immunity hearing if you think the killing was done in self defense and should not be prosecuted.

In that hearing you have to show that it was,  in fact, self defense. The burden of proof is on you, the defendant.

But Florida Republican Sen. Rob Bradley  says that’s not in the spirit of the law, which puts the onus of proving guilt on the state.

He wants to shift the burden in pretrial immunity hearings to the state. Under his bill, prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you can’t use the stand your ground defense.

“What I hope is the outcome is that people who should not go to trial should not go to trial,” said Bradley, of Orange Park near Jacksonville. “If a prosecutor does not have evidence to convince a judge at a pretrial hearing, then the prosecutor doesn’t have enough evidence to go to trial and get a conviction before a jury.”

Here's the proposed change to the statute:

In a criminal prosecution, once a prima facie claim of self-defense immunity from criminal prosecution has been raised by the defendant at a pretrial immunity hearing, the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is on the party seeking to overcome the immunity from criminal prosecution...

But many prosecutors don’t think this is a good idea.

For one, it means there’s less to lose for defendants brought up on use-of-force charges to try out this defense by requesting an immunity hearing.

The bill also sets the standard of proof to beyond a reasonable doubt, the same standard as a full trial.

Pulling together that kind of evidence for a pre-trial hearing is exceptionally burdensome, says Phil Archer, state attorney for the 18 th Judicial Circuit (Brevard and Seminole counties).

“If you’re going to hurt someone, if you are going to kill someone, the least we can require is that at a preliminary hearing that you carry the burden of telling us why we should give you complete immunity,” said Archer.

The bill passed favorably out of committee with a 5-4 vote.

A related bill has been filed in the Florida House and has been referred to the  Criminal Justice Subcommittee and Judiciary Committee.

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