Florida judge declares ‘stand your ground’ amendments unconstitutional

Florida judge declares ‘stand your ground’ amendments unconstitutional

The Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Monday that amendments made to the state’s “stand your ground” laws last month are unconstitutional. Specifically, Judge Milton Hirsch found that SB 128, the law in question, violated art. II § 3 of the Florida Constitution [text], which prohibits one branch of government from exercising powers confined to another branch. According to Hirsch, the legislative changes in question shifted the burden of persuasion concerning self-defense claims to prosecutors, and also elevated the required standard of proof. Hirsch found these changes to be procedural, which according to art. V § 2(a) state constitution, only the Florida Supreme Court [official website] has authority to enact. Hirsch added:

The legislative changes at issue here purport to alter in two ways the burden of proof at a “Stand Your Ground” hearing. The burden of persuasion is shifted from the movant—the criminal defendant claiming immunity—to the state. And the quantum of proof is altered from mere preponderance of the evidence to clear and convincing evidence. Because questions of burden of proof are procedural rather than substantive, however, I necessarily find the demised legislative changes to be unconstitutional.

Richard Corcoran [official profile], the Republican Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives [official website] criticized the ruling [Reuters report] stating that “It is the role of the legislature to write the laws that govern how Floridians may exercise their statutory and constitutional rights … The Florida House will continue to stand with ordinary citizens who exercise their right to self-defense.”

“Stand Your Ground” laws have been the subject of much controversy and have been scrutinized heavily. In November, the Journal of the American Medical Association [official website] reported [JURIST report] that the number of homicides in Florida increased “significantly” since the passing of the Stand Your Ground law [text] in 2005. In June 2012, Florida created a commission to review such self-defense laws [JURIST report]. Twenty-three states in the US have enacted a variation of the stand your ground law. The law does not require someone who reasonably believes themselves to be threatened or in immediate danger to retreat but rather allows the use of deadly force. The law has been criticized for its vagueness and potential for bias-based use against minorities. In April 2012, Rev. Markel Hutchins, a civil rights activist, filed suit [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia [official website] challenging the state’s “No Duty to Retreat” law because it is too vague and can lead to misuse of killing minority members. Hutchins also declared that his challenge derived from the killing of Trayvon Martin. Georgia enacted its “No Duty to Retreat” law in 2006 while Florida enacted [JURIST reports] its “stand your ground” law in 2005.