Instead of heading to the Governor, a Stand Your Ground-related bill is now headed back to the Senate for approval. That’s after the House passed its own version of the bill Wednesday.
Today, the accused who claims Stand Your Ground can avoid a trial if they can prove to a judge their self-defense claim is justified, during a pre-trial immunity hearing.
But, the Senate measure shifts that burden to prove the initial claim from the defendant to the prosecutor.
“The Senate bill amends the Stand Your Ground law to shift the burden of proof from the defendant to the state,” said Rep. Bobby Payne (R-Palatka). Under the Senate Bill, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant is not entitled to immunity if the defendant files a motion that he or is she is immune.”
Payne is the sponsor of the House bill, which now includes a new change that still shifts the burden to prosecutors, but lowers the standard for the state.
“The amendment replaces the Senate Bill with the House bill, so the state is required to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a defendant is not entitled to immunity when the defendant raises a prima facie case of immunity,” Payne added.
Still, despite the lower standard, many Democrats remain opposed to the measure.
“This Stand Your Ground law has already resulted in an increase in homicides in Florida, and once this law is in place, it will make it extremely difficult to prosecute gun crimes,” said Rep. Bobby DuBose (D-Ft. Lauderdale).
Rep. Lori Berman (D-Lantana) says this could also have a negative impact on domestic violence cases.
“Because I worry that there will be no one left standing who will speak for the victim and there won’t be any witnesses,” she said. “So, in the event, there’s no witnesses to come forward, and the woman who was the victim of domestic violence is not alive to testify, aren’t you concerned that it will allow the abuser to get away with it by shifting the burden?”
And, while Payne acknowledges that could be a valid circumstance, he says he just has a different philosophy on why he believes the burden should be shifted.
Bringing up an old argument, House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) says there’s also going to be an added financial burden on prosecutors—who expect a rise in self-defense claims if the bill becomes law.
“In listening to the state’s prosecutors, they have indicated that expanding Florida’s Stand Your Ground law would cost them an estimated $8 million in additional resources,” she said. “So, how do you plan to ensure that prosecutors have the resources to cover the additional burden that this new law would put in place for them? And, are we in essence looking to pass something that will have an unfunded mandate?”
Not only does he disagree with that assessment, Payne says the cost would be lower for prosecutors because this new bill lowers the standard.
“Since we have considered lowering the burden based on what we’ve heard in the first committees to conform it to something more friendly for the state and that may encourage others to come forward, we have heard that the cost could potentially be negligible and reduce those costs based on the fact that we’re not at the highest burden of proof,” Payne replied.
Still, even with the approval of his chamber, Payne’s House bill differs from the Senate version. And, Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley—the bill’s Senate sponsor—says his chamber’s “position on the issue is contained in the version of SB 128 that passed out of the Senate” last month.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.