TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A measure changing the state's controversial “stand your ground” self-defense law was among 16 bills that Gov. Rick Scott signed into law late Friday.
The self-defense bill stemmed from a Florida Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that said defendants have the burden of proof to show they should be shielded from prosecution under the "stand your ground" law.
In "stand your ground" cases, pretrial evidentiary hearings are held to determine whether defendants should be immune from prosecution.
The bill (SB 128) shifts the burden of proof from defendants to prosecutors in the pretrial hearings.
Supporters of the bill, such as National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, said shifting the burden of proof would better protect the rights of defendants.
“The burden-of-proof bill restores the presumption of innocence in self-defense cases,” Hammer told The News Service of Florida this week. “It puts the burden of proof back on the state, where it belongs.”
The NRA had powerful allies: the state's public defenders.
"What happens if a person exercises their right to self-defense and is arrested anyway? What happens is they are in a world of trouble," said Stacy Scott, a public defender in the 8th Judicial Circuit.
But labeled by Democrats as a "a shoot to kill" bill, critics have argued that the change could lead to cases ending before all the facts are revealed and that the bill would increase costs for state attorney offices.
Prosecutors have said the change will make it harder to get witnesses to cooperate.
Among the other bills signed Friday by Scott was a measure (SB 436) dealing with religious expression in schools.
The measure, which the American Civil Liberties Union has described as “troublesome,” seeks to prevent school districts from discriminating against students, parents or school employees on the basis of religious viewpoints or expression.
Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who sponsored the bill, said during this spring's regular legislative session that the bill “isn't protecting a faith.
It's protecting all people's freedom to express their hearts."