An updated version of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law requiring prosecutors to disprove a defendant’s self-defense case at pretrial hearings has been ruled unconstitutional.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch ruled Monday, July 3, that state lawmakers had overstepped their authority, adding that such a change should have been crafted by the Florida Supreme Court — not the Legislature.
“As a matter of constitutional separation of powers, that procedure cannot be legislatively modified,” Hirsch wrote in a 14-page order.
The judge’s ruling spelled victory for prosecutors who’ve strongly opposed the self-defense law, which they believed made it easier for defendants to get away with murder and other violent crimes, the Miami Herald reported. The law has also drawn criticism over the years for fostering a shoot-first mentality and giving killers a “get out of jail free” card.
Passed in 2005, the Stand Your Ground Law gives the average person permission to use lethal force when confronted with what they consider to be a deadly threat. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year found that Florida’s implementation of the contested law was actually associated with a 24.4 percent increase in overall homicides and a 31.6-percent increase in gun-related homicides.
The self-defense law was thrust into the spotlight during the high-profile case of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. Zimmerman used the Stand Your Ground defense and was later acquitted of second- degree murder in 2013.
The Miami Herald reported that Hirsch’s ruling isn’t binding and that other trial courts across the state can abide by the law if they choose.
Still, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) told the Miami Herald he thinks the Legislature acted lawfully.
“I would be surprised if this decision were upheld at the appellate level,” said Bradley, an ex-prosecutor who spearheaded the revision to the already problematic law.
The change, which required defendants seeking immunity from criminal prosecution to prove they were acting in self-defense, was praised and supported by the National Rifle Association, the newspaper reported.
Prosecutors vehemently opposed the revision, asserting that it would force them to unfairly to try a case twice. Such a move would make it easier for criminals to escape charges, they argued, as state attorneys would be tasked with presenting “clear and convincing” evidence that a defendant was not acting in self-defense after all.
Gov. Rick Scott signed the revised law into effect just last month.