Florida Governor Rick Scott amended the state's Stand Your Ground Law, and as our Jacksonville criminal defense lawyers will tell you, this will make it easier for a defendant to successfully claim self-defense in the commission of violent acts.
Previously, F.S. Sections 776.012, and 776.013 held that defendants had to prove they were acting in self-defense. Now, the law will shift the proof burden in the pre-trial phase to prosecutors, who will need to show in the early stages of the case that defendant's actions were not in self-defense.
The governor's actions were widely praised by criminal defense lawyers, as well as by supporters of stand your ground legislation, including pro-gun lobbyists with the National Rifle Association. Advocates have taken the view that this measure will help civilians protect themselves against intruders and other aggressors.
Change Ruled Unconstitutional
Of course, there are those on the other side of the aisle who fear owners of firearms will feel greatly emboldened to take the law into their own hands. They cited the 2012 case of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teen who was unarmed and killed by an armed neighborhood watchman, who later successfully argued the stand your ground defense.
Opponents say gun owners will feel they can shoot first and ask questions later.
In response to Scott's amendment, a Florida state court judge in the Miami-Dade Circuit Court ruled the change was unconstitutional, with lawmakers overstepping their bounds in making it easier for Florida defendants to be granted immunity for acts of violence. The judge ruled that it is the courts—not lawmakers—who should decide whether the force used in any given situation was warranted.
Supporters of Scott's amendment say they expect the judge's ruling will be reversed on appeal, which is pending.
It should be noted that the Miami court's ruling is only valid in that circuit, not statewide. Elsewhere, such as here in Jacksonville, the new stand your ground provisions will hold, unless similar challenges arise or the state high court takes on the issue.
Florida's Stand Your Ground Law
The Sunshine State's stand your ground law was first passed in 2005, and was the first among a handful of states to pass such a law. Whereas previously, civilians had a duty to retreat from a dangerous situation—only given the opportunity to use deadly force when they felt greatly threatened—the stand your ground law eliminated the so-called "duty to retreat."
Stand your ground applies in cases involving home or vehicle invasions. The measure stipulates that when an intruder enters unlawfully, attempts to enter, or refuses to leave a place lawfully occupied by another, AND the owner/occupant has a reasonable fear of great bodily harm or death, the owner/occupant may be justified in using deadly force.
Prior to the 2005 law, Florida recognized the "Castle Doctrine," which provided that where one is not the aggressor in one's own home, there is no duty to retreat. Stand your ground expanded this measure. The "reasonableness" of one's fear of harm can be gleaned so long as he or she is acting within his or her own dwelling or vehicle.
If you have been accused of homicide when you were protecting yourself, we can explore whether stand your ground is a viable Florida defense.