Last Friday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott passed legislation that states it’s now the responsibility of prosecutors to prove in pretrial hearings that defendants weren’t acting in self-defense when committing a violent crime.
Since 2005, it was up to the defendants to prove that they used force as an act of self defense. The new law, which is now in effect, strengthens the “stand your ground law,” by shifting the burden to the prosecutors.
“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 by clear and convincing evidence is on the party seeking to overcome the immunity from criminal prosecution provided in subsection,” writes the new law.
Although the bill was supported by lawmakers from both parties, some Democrats disapprove of the bill claiming that it encourages “gun owners to fire first and ask questions later.”
Florida is the first state to explicitly outline this. Of the other 21 “stand your ground” state laws, only four mention burden of proof and all of them place it on the defendants.
Under this new law, those found in a dangerous situation will be able to use deadly force when threatened, instead of attempting to retreat.
The National Rifle Association approved of the law saying “restores the presumption of innocence in self-defense cases by putting the burden of proof BACK ON THE STATE where it belongs.”
The “stand your ground” law was the reason why George Zimmerman, who shot the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, wasn’t immediately arrested and was eventually acquitted in the 2012 trial. This ignited a debate about the “stand your ground” defense.
Florida lawmakers have made it clear that citizens should have the right to protect themselves if they are forced into a situation where they must do so.
Author’s note: A law like this helps to protect home owners who want to defend themselves in the event of a potential attack. They can say it was self defense and now the prosecutor has to show “beyond a reasonable doubt” that this wasn’t the case.