An NRA-backed proposal to shift the burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases appears to be on the fast-track for approval in the Florida House, echoing similar recent endorsements in the Senate — and with the same vehement opposition from state prosecutors and gun-control advocates.
After the proposal abruptly failed on a deadlocked vote in the same Florida House committee last session, members of the Republican-heavy Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted 9-4, along party lines, on Wednesday to advance the legislation (HB 245). It faces only one more committee hearing before it could reach the floor.
An identical measure in the Florida Senate (SB 128) quickly cleared its two committees — despite similar concerns raised — and became the first bill from either chamber that was sent to the floor for the 2017 session, which begins March 7.
Through the legislation, conservative Republicans want to require state attorneys to prove in a preliminary hearing and beyond a reasonable doubt — a trial-level standard — why a criminal defendant should not get immunity from prosecution under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. That law allows individuals to use deadly force in self-defense — with no obligation to retreat or flee.
Current judicial practice is to have criminal defendants prove at a pre-trial hearing why they deserve the immunity.
The Florida Supreme Court held up this procedure in a 2015 ruling, but advocates for the bill — including the gun lobby and Florida’s public defenders — say it is unfair to defendants and contradicts what the Legislature wanted in enacting Stand Your Ground 12 years ago.
“This levels the playing field between the government and the citizen,” said Bob Dillinger, the public defender in Pinellas and Pasco counties, who spoke on behalf of the Florida Public Defender Association.
Photo credit: NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer shakes hands with Palatka Republican Rep. Bobby Payne after a House Criminal Justice Subcommittee hearing about proposed changes to Stand Your Ground on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. Payne is sponsoring the House bill. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau