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"Stand your ground" law changes inch toward full Senate vote

@ByKristenMClark

Senators debated on Thursday proposed changes to Florida's "stand your ground" law, clearing the way for a floor vote.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island -- the sponsor of SB 344 -- spent 20 minutes answering questions posed mostly by Democratic senators who probed the need for and implications of the bill.

Bradley's legislation would shift the burden of proof in a pre-trial hearing from defendants to prosecutors, requiring state attorneys to prove "by clear and convincing evidence" why a defendant could not claim "stand your ground" in self-defense cases.

He said the legislation is in reaction to a Florida Supreme Court last summer. Justices stated that defendants who claim a stand-your-ground defense have to prove before trial why they’re entitled to that immunity, but Bradley contends the justices "misinterpreted legislative intent" of the decade-old law.

"This bill brings full measure to what was done in 2005 and finishes the job and fairly and accuracy reflects what a true immunity hearing should be -- and that’s a hearing with the burden being on the state," Bradley said during Thursday's debate on the Senate floor.

Democratic Sen. Chris Smith, D- Fort Lauderdale, questioned the intent of the change, which has been described as a strengthening of the "stand your ground" law.

"This bill and this law is a way of avoiding trial," Smith said. "This is a way of not even going to a trial or going to a jury. This is a away of getting rid of it in front of a judge without a person’s peers looking at (it)."

Senators moved the bill to third reading, so it now needs to be scheduled on the calendar for a vote. It isn't slotted for the floor calendar for the next day of session, Jan. 28.

The House companion -- which required the demonstration of a higher burden of proof from prosecutors -- stalled in November in committee. Bradley said previously he wants his bill to pass out of the Senate and for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, to then take it up under messages directly on the House floor.

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