A House committee killed off a bill which would make it easier for Floridians to claim self defense in Stand Your Ground cases on Tuesday, leaving the bill’s future up in the air.
The bill was stalled by a 6-6 vote, with two Republicans -- Reps. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights and House Subcommittee Chair Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami -- joining four Democrats to vote against the measure.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, would shift the “burden of proof” for Stand Your Ground cases, and give defendants more protection from prosecution by requiring prosecutors to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” whether a defendant is entitled to immunity at a pretrial hearing in order to disprove a claim of self-defense immunity.
Rep. Trujillo said he understood the plight of those who need to use their firearms for self-defense.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled defendants using “Stand Your Ground” as their defense have the burden of proof that they should not be prosecuted. Stand Your Ground cases generally contain pretrial evidentiary hearings to determine whether or not a defendant is immune from prosecution.
Baxley’s bill gathered strong support from the National Rifle Association, which said the legislation was important for gun owners protecting themselves.
“If you own a gun and you ever have to use it to protect yourself or your family and -- you think, because of the Castle Doctrine/Stand Your Ground law, that the law is on your side, think again,” NRA lobbyist and former president Marion Hammer wrote in an email to members. “The Legislature gave you protection in 2005, but prosecutors and the courts have taken it away.”
Despite the bill’s early end, Hammer didn’t seem deterred from the possibility of the legislation making a return in the future, saying the bill would be back until it passed.
The Senate companion bill is set to be heard in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal Justice Wednesday.
After a bill dies in a House committee, it’s up to the Senate committee chair whether the companion bill will be heard or not.
Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, has been a staunch advocate of “Stand Your Ground” reforms, pushing a bill which would make Floridians firing a “warning shot” immune from the 10-20-Life provision in the Sunshine State.
The bill’s future is dim, but it’s not totally crossed out just yet. There’s still a possibility the legislation could be revived in the House and thrown into a package of different bills and ultimately pass, though it would be difficult to reach that point.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal Justice meets Wednesday at 10 a.m.