Florida Lawmakers Gear Up for ‘Stand Your Ground’ Battle in 2017

State Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island)
State Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island)

 

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute that has been around since 2005 allows residents to use deadly force in defense of their lives or property in certain instances—but with no obligation to retreat. Furthermore, the police can’t arrest someone who claims they feared for their life or that of others unless an investigation finds the use of force was illegal.

But since a Florida Supreme Court ruling in 2015, a hearing must be held in which the burden of proof falls upon the defendant to prove his use of force was necessary, unlike other criminal prosecutions in which the burden of proof falls upon the prosecution—that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing.

Republican State Senator Rob Bradley wants to correct what he considers to be the Florida Supreme Court’s “misinterpretation of the law” when it comes to who has the responsibility in a pretrial hearing to prove whether a defendant can claim self-defense under “stand your ground.”

Sen. Bradley previously tried to correct this issue with a bill in 2016 passed the Senate but the House version of the bill died in committee.  So this time around, Sen. Bradley filed SB 128 on December 8, 2016, to revive the issue for the upcoming regular legislative session that commences March 7, 2017.

When first introduced in 2005, the law was intended so that prosecutors—not defendants—should bear the burden of proof at the pre-trial hearing. Under Bradley’s proposed legislation, prosecutors would have the burden of proof to establish before trial why a defendant could not claim a stand-your-ground defense.

“The government has the burden of proof in a criminal case from the beginning of a case until the end,” Bradley said in a statement Thursday when he filed his bill. “This fundamental premise is guaranteed in our Constitution and understood intuitively by all Floridians.”

One of the points of debate over the previous bill in the Senate was over what level of proof prosecutors would be held to at the pre-trial hearing: “beyond a reasonable doubt” or the lesser standard of “by clear and convincing evidence.”

The version that passed the Senate included the compromise of “clear and convincing evidence.” But SB 128 calls for what Bradley originally proposed: requiring prosecutors to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt”—the standard required at trial—why a stand-your-ground defense can’t be claimed.

“We have an obligation to zealously guard the protections granted us all in the Constitution,” Bradley’s statement continued.

No House companion has yet been filed for 2017. Last session’s sponsor of the House bill, Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, is now in the Senate.

“We did this (the 2005 law) for the law-abiding citizens. We didn’t do it for the prosecutors” said Baxley when asked about the Stand Your Ground law and the proposed legislation.

If a House companion bill does get filed, the upcoming legislative session should prove interesting to say the least. — by Michael Wisdom, Senior Contributing Editor, Texas & U.S. Law Shield Blog

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