TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A senator sponsoring a National Rifle Association-backed change to the state's controversial "stand your ground" law intends to try to keep the proposal alive after a similar measure died in the House.
Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said Wednesday he will continue to push his proposal (SB 344), which could make it easier legally for people to claim self-defense in shooting incidents. A similar bill (HB 169) failed Tuesday in a 6-6 vote in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, as ties kill legislation.
"Everything is in play until Sine Die," said Bradley, referring to the Latin phrase for "without day" that marks the end of a legislative session. "I wouldn't describe anything as being the end of the road. … This is good legislation by the Senate."
The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday voted 5-1 to approve Bradley's bill, which is filed for the 2016 legislative session. The bill was approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee last month.
The measure would shift the burden of proof to the state in cases involving Florida's "stand your ground" law, which says people can use deadly force and do not have a duty to retreat if they think it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.
The bill was crafted after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that people who use the "stand your ground" defense have the burden of showing they should be shielded from prosecution. In such cases, pre-trial evidentiary hearings are held to determine whether defendants are immune from prosecution under the law. The bill calls for placing the burden of proof on prosecutors in the evidentiary hearings.
Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando attorney who cast the lone vote against the bill Wednesday, called the proposal an "unprecedented burden shift."
"It doesn't even change it from preponderance of evidence to the prosecution side, but rather beyond a reasonable doubt," Soto said. "I believe it's going well beyond what the original stand-your-ground-bill was intended for."
But subcommittee Chairman Sen. Joe Negron said the proposal is intended to "clarify" the law, and he disagreed that the measure would create any additional burden on prosecutors.
"If a prosecutor cannot get a judge to say that in this particular case self-defense wasn't used, they're not going to win a jury trial in the real world," said Negron, an attorney from Stuart.