“Stand your ground” is in the news again as the courts have enacted changes to the controversial law that shifts the burden of proof from the defense to the prosecution. In other words, if the defense asserts that their client was “standing their ground”, the prosecution must prove that this is merely a pretense.
The original law was passed in 2005 and made famous by the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case. The law states that a citizen has no “duty to retreat” and can thus not be held liable when they have reason to fear that their life is in danger. On the surface, the law makes a great deal of sense, but the George Zimmerman case muddied the waters in terms of application. It stoked racial tensions and many criticized the law as a “shoot first and ask questions later” type of policy.
Functionally, what the law does is make it easier to prove self-defense. If someone is attacking you, you cannot be held liable for what happens to them.
What about Domestic Violence Cases?
Tymothy Ray Martin had been accused and convicted of felony battery of his girlfriend in 2016. A judge had denied his petition to use stand your ground as a defense to the charges. His attorneys appealed the case and the appellate court sided with the defendant. But the appeal was pending when Governor Rick Scott shifted the burden of proof in stand-your-ground cases.
The appeals court ruled that the new changes should retroactively apply to Martin’s case and overturned his conviction. The ruling meant that Martin was entitled to another hearing under the new law.
But the hearing was only meant to determine whether or not Martin was entitled to statutory immunity given the new standard of proof. Not, in other words, the quality of his defense. If the court had decided that Martin was entitled to statutory immunity, his case would have to be overturned.
The courts determined that the new statute should apply only to cases that were pending when the law was passed and not to all cases in which stand your ground was at play.
Prosecutors Claim the New Law Makes their Job Harder
Well, they’re right about that. Initially, the Supreme Court of Florida had ruled that if a defendant wanted to get their criminal trial summarily dismissed they shouldered the burden of proving that in a court of law. Now, they need only assert the defense and the prosecutors are on the hook for proving that claim is only a pretense for murder.
The new law makes the old law even more controversial since the prosecution must now prove that the defendant was not standing their ground. On top of that, it was the NRA that lobbied heavily in favor of the new provision making the already controversial law tied up in another controversy.
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