In 2005, the Florida was the first state to enact Stand Your Ground, a law which allowed a person to use deadly force in order to protect and defend themselves or others against threats or perceived threats. Fast forward to 2017, and Florida Legislators are looking to clarify parts of Stand Your Ground. This week, the Florida Senate approved a bill (SB128), which would shift the burden of proof during the pretrial phase of “Stand Your Ground” cases from the defendant to prosecutors.
As it stands now in “stand your ground” cases, pre-trial evidentiary hearings are held to determine whether defendants should be immune from prosecution. The shift in burden of proof has led Democrats to nickname the proposal “shoot to kill” and “how to get away with murder”, arguing it will effectively force two trials, doubling the workload and making it more difficult to get witnesses to testify. Across the aisle, Republicans contend it correctly forces prosecutors to prove why the law should not apply to a defendant.
The argument that this bill will encourage people to engage in criminal behavior because it creates a loophole for people to commit acts of murder without consequences is off base at best and fails to recognize this bill will give back the “innocent until proven guilty” protection to the defendant.
It is important to note, this law does not only apply to shootings, but also to misdemeanors, domestic violence and assault cases that don’t involve guns. While the NRA and most legislators, both for and against have made this bill about guns, it really isn’t. In fact, firearms are not mentioned once in the bill.
The move to switch the burden of proof comes after a 2015 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court allowed prosecutors to use a special stand your ground hearing in which those under investigation must prove they are innocent rather than making the state prove guilt – and from there either apply charges and hold for trial or move to release.
There is no denying the potential this bill, if passed, could lead to abuse and has the potential to cost state attorneys in time and money. However, this bill helps clarify a portion of stand your ground’s ambiguity and helps protect the defendant, and while opponents will cry foul, the reality of the situation is, this bill is anything but a license to kill. Rather, this bill maintains fidelity to the constitution by causing the prosecutor to prove the defendant did not act in self defense.
Inevitably there will be those who claim stand your ground when the events and their actions tell another story, in the criminal system, there are those who abuse the system and continue to try and tip the scales in their favor. But for people those who honestly had no choice but to defend themselves, this bill upholds their rights as a Floridian and their right to due process.
Between legislators, the gun lobby, and other special interest organizations, there are a lot of people who have skin in the game on whether or not this bill passes, but no one has more to lose in the failing of this bill than the innocent people who have been forced to protect themselves at the cost of taking a life.