The Florida Senate has passed a new bill that amends Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law.
Senate Bill 128, which was passed 23 to 15 Wednesday, seeks to shift the burden of proof from the defendant to the prosecutor. As it currently stands, the Stand Your Ground law requires defendants to prove during the pretrial that they are immune from criminal prosecution under the self-defense law.
“What this bill does, senators, is put the burden of proof where I would, respectively, suggest it should rightfully be,” said Republican Sen. Rob Bradley to fellow senators during Wednesday’s Senate session. He’s also the author of the bill. “From the beginning of a criminal case to the end, [it] is with the state, and that the standard of proof be beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Bradley could not be reached for further comments.
Florida was the first state in the country to enact the self-defense law back in 2005. Now, 24 states across the country have some type of Stand Your Ground law in place.
Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, who authored the original 2005 law, spoke on the Senate floor and said if the state believes someone committed a crime, it should always be the state’s responsibility to prove a crime was committed.
“I’m sorry if that burden seems too heavy, but that’s what we do in America,” Baxley said. “You’re innocent until proven guilty.”
However, not all Republican senators were in favor of the bill.
Sen. Anitere Flores, the second highest ranking Senate Republican, voted against it, despite previously voting in favor of it in a subcommittee in February. After state attorneys from her home district of Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties expressed their concerns of the possible financial burden, Flores changed her mind.
“The state would be proving the case twice,” Flores said. “There’s a strong concern that many more defendants will invoke the Stand Your Ground defense because they know it will shift more work onto the state attorneys on the front end.”
Democratic senators also voiced their concerns with the bill, calling it a “shoot-to-kill” and a “how-to-get-away-with-murder” bill shortly before the Senate passed the bill.
Democratic Senator Audrey Gibson said that since the bill went into effect in 2005, evidence suggests it has made crime worse.
“The data shows us–and I believe in data–that many more people are dying as a result of this Stand Your Ground bill,” Gibson said.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was associated with a 24.4 percent increase in homicide and a 31.6 percent increase in firearm-related homicide from 2005 to 2014.
Florida has seen its fair share of high profile Stand Your Ground cases, including the 2012 killing of 17-year-old Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida. The unarmed teen was shot and killed by 47-year-old Michael Dunn after he confronted Davis over loud rap music Davis was playing in his car.
Although Dunn did not use the Stand Your Ground law in court, he always claimed he acted in self-defense.
Davis’ mother, Lucy McBath, who’s now a national spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, provided the following statement to WUFT News in response to the senate’s vote:
“The Florida Senate has chosen to ignore senseless killings like that of my dear son, Jordan Davis, and Trayvon Martin to vote in favor of expanding the state’s already deadly Stand Your Ground law. Make no mistake, this expansion will create a nearly insurmountable backlog of cases for prosecutors, and will make it easier for gun criminals to escape justice. This legislation will be especially traumatic for gun violence survivors and their loved ones. Our lawmakers should remember that the dangerous proposal they’ve supported today can and will have irreversible consequences for many Floridians tomorrow and for years to come.”
The bill will need to be taken up and passed in the Florida House, which is also a Republican-majority chamber, before it could be signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.