Florida Judge Weakens ‘Stand Your Ground’ Protections

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Jack Crowe Political Reporter
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A Florida judge’s Monday ruling rolled back expanded “stand your ground” protections codified in a bill passed by the state’s Republican-led legislature earlier this year.

The bill, signed by GOP Gov. Rick Scott June 9, updated the state’s 2005 “stand your ground” law by shifting the burden of proof from the defendant to the prosecutor. The law expanded protections for defendants in cases in which an individual elects to use deadly force against a perceived threat rather than fleeing.

In the Monday ruling, Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch said that the state’s legislature encroached on the authority of the Supreme Court by making a procedural, rather than a substantive, change to the “stand your ground” law.

Prior to the June bill, defendants had to prove they were entitled to immunity under the “stand your ground” law. The increased protections shifted this burden to the prosecution, who then had to prove that the defendant was not entitled to such immunity.

Gun rights supporters pressed for the law, arguing that placing the pretrial burden of proof on the defendant violates their constitutional right to a presumption of innocence. Critics of the law celebrated the judge’s ruling as they felt the expanded protections for defendants made it more difficult to convict someone of a violent crime.

Florida was the first state to expand “stand your ground” protections for defendants, as only four of the other 21 “stand your ground” law states mention the burden of proof, and they all place it on the defendants. Florida was also the first state to expand the concept of self defense to include situations outside the home.

The state’s gun laws received national attention after the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen killed in Sanford, Fla. The teen’s killer, George Zimmerman, was later acquitted after initially not being arrested due to “stand your ground” protections.

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