A new bill which would change the burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases is headed to the Senate floor after a rocky start in the Florida House -- meaning the bill still may see the light of day come the 2016 regular legislative session.
This week, SB 344, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, would shift the “burden of proof” for Stand Your Ground cases, giving 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.
Sen. Bradley introduced the bill after a recent ruling from the Florida Supreme Court this summer which said defendants would be responsible for the burden of proof showing they shouldn’t be prosecuted in Stand Your Ground cases.
The proposal passed through the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday, and will now head to the full Senate floor for a vote.
Despite the legislation making its way through the Senate, its companion legislation, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, didn’t fare as well in the House -- last month, the bill stalled out in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee when it flopped due to a 6-6 tie vote.
The future of the bill seemed dim, but despite many saying it was dead, the proposal received a second life in the Senate.
If a bill dies in a House committee, it’s up to the Senate committee chair whether the companion bill will be heard or not. That route proved fruitful for SB 344, and 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.
Bradley said the Senate would keep the legislation alive, explaining he hoped that chamber would handle the bill in the first or second week of the regular legislative session and then send the bill back to the House to see whether or not House Speaker Steve Crisafulli would take the bill up in that chamber.
The legislation has already gathered significant support from gun groups like the National Rifle Association, which has already said the bill is vital for gun owners who may use their weapons to protect themselves in potentially harmful situations.
“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 last month. “The Legislature gave you protection in 2005, but prosecutors and the courts have taken it away.”
Bradley’s bill includes several amendments, some of which would require prosecutors to provide convincing evidence that the defendant shouldn’t be immune under the state’s Stand Your Ground law.
Florida’s regular legislative session begins Jan. 12.