Changes to Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' Law
Historically, Florida has always acknowledged what is called the “castle doctrine”. This legal doctrine allows for the use of deadly force if you are defending your home from an intruder and fear for your life. This kind of law has been in place across the United States since the 18th century, protecting homeowners from trespassers and other threats.
In 2005, Florida governor Jeb Bush signed into law a bill called “stand your ground”. This law was one of the first of its kind in the United States, and after it was introduced in Florida, more than 20 other states followed suit with similar legislation. The new Florida law made it so that anyone, in any place they are legally allowed to be, can use deadly force if they believe there is a serious threat to their life. This legislation was an expansion of the “castle doctrine”, not only allowing people in their homes or on their property to use deadly force, but anyone who feels threatened outside of their home as well.
The 2005 law placed the burden of proof on the defendant. This means that in order to invoke the “stand your ground” defense, the defendant must prove that they used deadly force in self-defense. They must prove that they acted out of fear for the safety of themselves or another person. However, the new bill just signed into law by Governor Rick Scott changes the burden of proof entirely.
On Friday, June 9th, 2017, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill that would greatly reform the existing “stand your ground” law. The new law shifts the burden of proof from the defendant to the prosecutor, meaning that prosecutors must prove that force was used unlawfully. If person A shoots and kills someone and claims self defense, they no longer have an obligation to prove that their force was justified. Opponents of the law claim that the shifting of proof will make it more difficult to convict those who commit violent crimes and claim self-defense.
Florida statute 776.012 states that “A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be.” There are three elements that must be present in order for the “stand your ground” law to apply. A person must be: not engaged in criminal activity, in a place where they are legally allowed to be, and in fear of either imminent bodily harm or a forcible felony.
After the 2012 Orlando shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin by volunteer neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, these kinds of self-defense laws have been under fire. Zimmerman was found not guilty of murder after the jury was provided with information on Florida’s “stand your ground” laws. Many worry that the new legislation will increase the amount of gun deaths in the state of Florida, as well as increase the number of controversial cases like that of Trayvon Martin. However, only time will tell.