A Stand Your Ground-related bill is now teed up for a vote in the full Florida Senate. But, a bipartisan push to water down the bill Thursday is angering some gun rights groups.
Today, to avoid a trial, the accused in a Stand Your Ground Immunity hearing would have to prove their self-defense claim. Sen. Rob Bradley’s (R-Fleming Island) original bill would shift that burden to state prosecutors.
“One would naturally assume that the government has this burden in the immunity hearing,”he said. “However, in 2015, the Florida Supreme Court in the Bretherick V. State decision held otherwise. In a 5-2 decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the burden of proof for self-defense rested on the accused, not the government. Two conservative judges dissented. This bill corrects what I consider to be the error of the Bretherick decision, and it our right to do so as a legislature.”
Bradley’s bill stems from the dissenting opinion of the Florida Supreme Court decision—which he later defended when questioned about it by Sen. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg).
“And, this attempt that we’re doing today is taking a dissenting opinion and trying to make it law. Is that right,” asked Rouson.
“Senator, I think you’re right, and I think that’s a very fair and just thing to do,” replied Bradley. “I think we have a system of government with three branches. And, obviously if the Florida Supreme Court rules a particular law to be unconstitutional or particular right to be constitutional, then there’s nothing that the legislature can do to disturb that nor should we. But, this is not a constitutional matter. This is a matter where five justices considered one approach, two justices considered another approach, and I concluded the dissent had the more compelling approach.”
Other arguments against Bradley’s bill stem from the majority opinion of the Florida Supreme Court. Those justices ruled shifting the burden on prosecutors would essentially force them to prove their case twice.
Some opponents say it would also fully open the prosecution’s case to the defense at trial, leaving them at an unfair disadvantage. And, the bill further included language disallowing the prosecution from using preliminary hearing evidence at trial.
“Prosecutions…they’re going to be a tremendous waste,” said Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs).
So, Simmons, the author of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, filed a change to Bradley’s bill.
“I really believe that what we need to do is delete lines 37 and 38 that talk about a lack of accountability—this sentence that says, ‘if the motion is not granted, the motion and its contents are inadmissible at trial,’” Simmons added.
And, while other amendments got defeated, Simmons’ change to the bill won unanimous approval in the Senate. That means it’s now teed up for a floor vote. Its House companion has one more stop before heading to the floor.
Meanwhile, Florida Carry—a gun rights group in favor of the original bill—says Simmons’ approved amendment diluted the bill. Ahead of the vote, they’d already sent letters to their members asking them to pressure their lawmakers to oppose the measure.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.