There is probably no legislation that evokes as much emotion as “Stand Your Ground” laws. While they may vary in details from state to state, essentially SYG laws simply remove the requirement for a victim to retreat. Now, retreating where possible is always a good thing — why use deadly force if you can avoid it?
But the primary driving force behind SYG is that in the past, prosecutors have too often argued that a defendant must go to sometimes utterly absurd lengths to escape before resorting to deadly force in self-defense.
Naturally, opponents of Stand Your Ground predicted nothing less than “blood in the streets” if it were enacted. More than one legislator opposed to Florida’s original SYG law hysterically proclaimed it a “shoot first” law. Pathetic, but predictable.
Besides, SYG states do not experience the “Wild West” scenarios gun control advocates predicted. But this reality does not stop anti-gun activists from attempting to alter or repeal existing laws. Thankfully, they have been largely unsuccessful.
However, some changes to existing law are positive for those of us who carry firearms. One such measure to amend Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is currently working its way through the legislature. According to News4 Jacksonville:
“A divided Senate panel on Thursday voted for the bill (SB128) that would place more of a burden on prosecutors to prove self-defense wasn’t a factor when charging someone with assaulting or killing another person.”
In most Stand Your Ground cases, pre-trial evidentiary hearings are held to determine whether defendants qualify for immunity from prosecution (and in some states, civil lawsuits). This is understandable when deadly force is used. After all, authorities are not simply going to take your word for what happened, especially if there was a fatal outcome.
But the current bill is in response to a particularly disturbing Florida Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that said defendants have the burden of proof to show they should be shielded from prosecution under the “Stand Your Ground” law.
This ruling is not merely dangerous, it is in complete contradiction to a fundamental foundation of American law: that a defendant is always presumed innocent, and that the entire burden of proving criminal wrongdoing is on the shoulders of the state (i.e. the prosecution).
SB128 will amend the law to conform to that standard. Again, from News4 Jacksonville:
“If you are the government and you don’t have sufficient evidence in front of a judge to convince a judge to move forward to trial, then you aren’t going to win the trial,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who is sponsoring the “Stand Your Ground” bill.
No surprise, SB128 is opposed by prosecutors. In response, Senator Dennis Baxley, author of the original SYG bill in 2005, was blunt:
“We did this for the law-abiding citizens. We didn’t do it for the prosecutors.”
Sen. Audrey Gibson, Democrat, Jacksonville, also predictably opposes SB128, but went even further, saying that even under current law, prosecutors should “forget the hearing and just charge someone. We get to justice quicker if we go to charging and build the case from there.”
Thankfully, Ms. Gibson’s views are in the minority. And passage of SB128 looks good for now. But remember that being aware of pending legislation, good or bad, and making your voice heard at your state’s legislature, is essential to protecting all of our rights.