TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Attorney General Pam Bondi is seeking to block Miami-Dade County’s top prosecutor from getting involved in a Florida Supreme Court case and supporting arguments that a 2017 change to the “stand your ground” self-defense law is unconstitutional.
Bondi’s office late Tuesday filed a document opposing a request by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to take a friend-of-the-court position in the case. Fernandez Rundle has asked the court for permission to “adopt” the position of the League of Prosecutors-Florida, which argues the controversial 2017 change is unconstitutional.
The newly filed document said Bondi is Florida’s chief legal officer and that she --- and not the state attorney --- represents the state in such cases. It said granting Fernandez Rundle’s request would “serve no purpose other than to circumvent Florida law, which grants the attorney general, not the state attorney, the authority to speak for the state in its appellate courts.”
The highly unusual clash stems from a Miami-Dade County case in which defendant Tashara Love sought to use the “stand your ground” law to be shielded from prosecution in a November 2015 shooting incident outside a nightclub.
The “stand your ground” law says people are justified in using deadly force and do not have a “duty to retreat” if they believe it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. When the defense is successfully raised in pre-trial hearings, defendants are granted immunity from prosecution.
The 2017 law shifted a burden of proof from defendants to prosecutors in determining whether self-defense claims are justified. By placing the burden on prosecutors during pre-trial hearings, the change could help at least some defendants.
Love’s case has focused primarily on whether the 2017 change should apply retroactively to older cases, such as Love’s self-defense claim. Appeals courts have taken different stances on the retroactivity issue, and the Supreme Court agreed in June to hear Love’s case.
But along with the retroactivity issue, the case also has drawn arguments about whether the underlying 2017 change was constitutional. The League of Prosecutors-Florida, which includes current and former prosecutors, contends, in part, that changing the burden of proof in pretrial hearings is unconstitutional because it infringes on the Supreme Court’s right to regulate “practice and procedures in Florida’s courts.”
“The determination of which party in a court proceeding has the burden of going forward with the evidence, i.e. the burden of proof, is a matter of procedure, subject only to judicial authority,” the organization said in an Oct. 25 brief.
Fernandez Rundle’s request to get involved in the case said her office also has argued in circuit court that the 2017 change is unconstitutional.
“(The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office) supports the position of the League of Prosecutors and desires to adopt its brief as its own in an amicus (friend of the court) capacity,” the request said. “It is important for this court to recognize that (the State Attorney’s Office) has not changed its basic position that the statute is unconstitutional.”
Bondi’s office, which did not object to the League of Prosecutors-Florida filing a brief, contends that the retroactivity issue could be resolved without addressing the broader constitutionality of the 2017 change. Nevertheless, Bondi’s office disputes that the change is unconstitutional.
“Burden of proof provisions allocating and prescribing the applicable burden of proof in judicial proceedings are commonplace in both civil and criminal statutory schemes. … Notwithstanding the prevalence and venerable status of such laws, the state is unaware of any case in which this (Supreme) Court struck down a burden-of-proof statute as an impermissible encroachment on the court’s authority to promulgate procedural rules,” Bondi’s office said in an Oct. 19 brief.