Florida Shifts Burden of Proof in ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law

Prosecutors must prove defendants weren’t acting in self-defense when they committed act of violence

The Wall Street Journal tells a great story of a first, believe it or not, in the United States.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—Florida became the first state with a law that spells out that prosecutors, and not defendants, have the burden of proof in pretrial “stand your ground” hearings when Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Friday.

The measure was among 16 bills that the Republican governor signed, including a bill that gives students and school employees a broader right to express their religious viewpoint in schools.

The “stand your ground” bill was fought by prosecutors who say it would it more difficult to convict people who commit acts of violence and claim self-defense.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that defendants must prove in pretrial hearings that they were defending themselves to avoid prosecution on charges for a violent act.

That led Republican lawmakers to amend the law. They said the change to the law protects a defendant’s constitutional right that presumes they are innocent until proven guilty.

Opponents said it would embolden people to shoot to kill, and then claim self-defense knowing that the only witness against them can no longer testify.

Only four of the other 21 state “stand your ground” laws mention burden of proof—Alabama, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina—and all place it on defendants.

Florida was one of the first to expand the concept of self-defense outside the home, with a 2005 law that protects people who use deadly force in response to a threat they reasonably believe could cause them serious injury, even when escape is an option.

The 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African-American in Sanford, Fla., by a white neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, drew national attention to Florida’s “stand your ground” law and others. The case was also a flashpoint for racial tension.

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