Members of the Florida House and Senate hammered out an agreement to improve the state’s “stand-your-ground” law as time was running out on the state’s legislative session.
Senate Bill 128, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), was approved late on May 5. It now awaits the signature of Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
The bill — which passed 22-14 — would place the burden of proof on state prosecutors in pretrial hearings of cases involving defendants who seek immunity by claiming they used deadly force to defend themselves.
For Bradley, it was a major hurdle in a two-year effort. He unsuccessfully pushed for a similar bill last session.
“On the last night of (the) session, our Constitutional rights secured for centuries were protected and strengthened!” he said on social media. “(The New York Times) may not agree, but protecting constitutional rights is always the right thing to do. Took two years, worth it.”
Pretrial hearings are held to determine if immunity is justified for defendants in self-defense cases, said James Phillips, an Independent Program Attorney for U.S. Law Shield of Florida.
But, as of this writing, Florida law requires the defendant to prove justification for using deadly force. That was the finding reached in a 5-2 Florida Supreme Court decision, Phillips said.
“But now,” Phillips added, “assuming Gov. Scott signs the bill, that burden will go back to prosecutors, which is how the legal system normally works — in that, the state has the burden of proof in criminal proceedings.”
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill agreed that the burden-of-proof should go back to the prosecution, but they differed on the legal standard.
The House favored “clear and convincing evidence” of self defense, while the Senate called for the tougher standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” These distinctions were described in a News Service of Florida article carried by the Tampa Bay Times.
But with time running out, the Senate agreed to the “clear and convincing evidence” standard, the news service reported.
Joe Negron, president of the Senate, praised the bill’s passage.
“If the State of Florida is going to accuse a citizen of committing a crime, the State of Florida should have the burden of proof at each and every part of the proceeding,” said Negron, a Republican senator from Treasure Coast.
“This legislation,” he continued, “requires the state to meet the standard of clear and convincing evidence to overcome an immunity claim. This is a huge step towards better protection of the constitutional freedoms guaranteed to all citizens.”
Other pro-gun bills were also passed in the waning hours of the session, including:
SB 1052 — This is an adjustment to the Castle Doctrine law, clarifying that people don’t have to be inside their homes to use self-defense.
HB 467 — This is a broader bill dealing with a wide range of agricultural and commerce issues, but it includes a cut in the fee for a concealed weapons license. An initial seven-year license drops from $60 to $55, and the subsequent seven-year renewal falls from $50 to $45. (See page 55 of this document.) — Bill Miller, contributor, Texas & U.S. Law Shield blog