Stand Your Ground on Steroids Gets Shot Down
The Florida Supreme Court just shot down a law that could be called Stand Your Ground on Steroids, which the NRA lobbied for this spring.
On June 9th, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a controversial bill, championed by the NRA and passed by the Republican state legislature, that bolstered the state’s Stand Your Ground law. The court ruled that the update to the law is unconstitutional.
Stand Your Ground had already warped the legal process surrounding shooting deaths by stating that any defendant who “reasonably believed” that they were in danger of bodily harm or death, that they had a right to shoot the person they believed threatened them. This law was an expansion of the so-called Castle Doctrine, a legal theory that gives defendants the right to defend themselves, their family and their property in their own home, with lethal force, if necessary. The Stand Your Ground law became extremely controversial after it was applied to the killing of Trayvon Martin, and was used to exonerate George Zimmerman, who followed, confronted, and shot and killed an unarmed teenage boy against police instructions. Despite all of the context of the killing, the jury found that Zimmerman could plausibly have been in fear for his life, so he was innocent.
Related: George Zimmerman Drops Racial Slur, Harasses Black Bar Patron In Latest Brush With Law (VIDEO)
In March, the Washington Post reported on the Florida Senate’s efforts to bolster Stand Your Ground. The new addition to the law said that prosecutors had to prove during pre-trial hearings that a defendant who shot someone had not felt threatened. Under Stand Your Ground, the onus was on defense to prove their client’s self-defense. Under the new update, the onus was on the prosecution to prove that the defendant had not acted in self-defense before the case could even proceed to trial.
Numerous groups opposed the bill. Legal activists decried this development as an abuse of the legal system, since defendants in shooting cases would essentially go through two trials instead of one. This elevated shooting defendants as a special, protected class of defendants, who had two chances to avoid a conviction, instead of the one that virtually any other defendant gets. The NAACP argued that it increased the likelihood that innocent people would get shot and murderers would evade justice. Law enforcement advocates argued that it took power away from police and investigators to decide what cases to bring to trial.
But one group supported the bill with religious fervor. As the Washington Post reported, Florida’s NRA fought for the bill,
“If you exercise a God-given right, the right of self-defense, you don’t have the same rights as everybody else. You’re not innocent until proven guilty,” said Marion Hammer, a lobbyist with the National Rifle Association in Florida. “That’s wrong. That’s what needs to be fixed.”
The NRA celebrated Scott’s signature on the bill in June as a great victory. But as ThinkProgress reported on Monday, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the law,
But on Monday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch ruled that the update was unconstitutional, because of the process used to update the law — it should have been done through the Supreme Court, not the legislature according to Florida’s constitution.
“As a matter of constitutional separation of powers, that procedure cannot be legislatively modified,” Hirsch wrote.
The ruling held that legislation can’t rejigger the normal procedure of trying a case, only the judicial branch can do that. The ruling also held that the burden of establishing immunity to prosecution rightly rests on the party claiming that immunity.
This ruling could be a dodged bullet for the country at large, since Florida was an early incubator for the original Stand Your Ground law, which then spread to more than half of US states, via NRA and ALEC influence over legislators.
Photo by Joe Burbank-Pool/Getty Images
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