Governor signs Florida ‘stand your ground’ reform into law

Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law that gun control groups call a “national embarrassment.” (Photo: Florida Governor’s Office)

Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law that gun control groups call a “national embarrassment.” (Photo: Florida Governor’s Office)

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday approved a Republican-backed measure that clarifies the state’s burden of proof in self-defense cases.

The legislation, SB 128, which expands justifiable homicide protections in Florida, was approved by the House 74-39 in April and 22-14 in the Senate last month. The law clarifies that the government, not the accused, has the burden of proof in a “stand your ground” immunity hearing prior to proceeding to trial, which supporters of the effort felt should have been the case all along.

“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 Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in a statement. “This legislation requires the state to meet the standard of clear and convincing evidence to overcome an immunity claim.”

The state legislature in 2005 passed a self-defense law that gave immunity from arrest, detainment, charging and prosecuting unless an investigation by the state reveals there was probable cause to believe the act was not, in fact, lawful self-defense. However, the Florida Supreme Court authorized 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.

Senate Bill 128, which took effect immediately, reverses that process and establishes that prosecutors will have to provide “clear and convincing” evidence to move forward to trial.

Among those advocating against the proposal was Lucy McBath, mother of 17-year-old Jordan Davis who was fatally shot following a dispute over loud music. The defendant in that case was later convicted of murder in a high-profile trial. Since the teen’s death, McBath has been a vocal challenger of stand your ground policies in her work with gun control group Moms Demand Action.

She called the legislation a “national embarrassment” and pointed out that Scott signed the stand your ground protection the same day he proclaimed June 12 as Pulse Memorial Day.

“Not only am I outraged, I find this to be tone-deaf and hypocritical,” said McBath.

Gun rights groups backed the measure from the outset, arguing that the procedures implemented by prosecutors did not have the weight of law and vital self-defense rights have been safeguarded.

“The bill restores the presumption of innocence in self-defense cases and puts the burden of proof back on the state where it belongs,” Marion Hammer, executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida and a former National Rifle Association president, told previously.

Scott also signed SB 1052 last week, which corrects a drafting error with the state’s use of force model which Second Amendment groups hold could impose a duty to retreat before exercising self-defense in the home.

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