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Judge’s Ruling Forces Florida to Update Stand Your Ground Law

In July of 2017, updates that had been made to Florida’s “stand your ground" law were ruled to be unconstitutional. The updates to the controversial law required prosecutors to disprove a defendant's self-defense case at pretrial hearings. The ruling made by one Florida judge set up a showdown that might make it all the way up to the state's top court.

Judge Milton Hirsch ruled that the amendment to the state’s stand your ground law enabled lawmakers to overstep their authority. Judge Hirsch added that the amendment should have been crafted by the Florida Supreme Court in the first place. Hirsch wrote, “As a matter of constitutional separation of powers, that procedure cannot be legislatively modified.”

In 2015, the Florida Supreme Court ruled for courts to shift the burden to defendants in stand your ground cases. With this change, defendants were required to prove in pretrial hearings that they were defending themselves in order to avoid prosecution for a violent act. Prosecutors were vocal about their opposition to the updated law because they believed it made it easier for defendants to get away from murder charges. Under this change, prosecutors were also required to provide "clear and convincing" evidence that a defendant was not using violent force as an act of self-defense.

The stand your ground law was passed back in 2005 and gave people in Florida the right to "shoot first" if they believed their lives were in danger during a confrontation. The law states, “A person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if: He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself." Under this law, judges were given the right to dismiss charges against the defendant if they believed reasonable self-defense was used in the case.

The self-defense law first gained national attention during George Zimmerman's case in 2012. Zimmerman was a neighborhood watchman who shot and killed an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin in Central Florida. An attorney argued that Zimmerman used deadly force because he "reasonably" believed his life was in immediate danger. A jury later acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder.

Back in 2016, a research study revealed that Florida’s stand your ground law was associated with a sharp increase in killings throughout the state. It was this research that prompted lawmakers to re-examine and consider changes to the law.

Figures from Florida authorities showed that justifiable homicides, or those deemed in self-defense, tripled to an annual average of 36 in the five years after the stand your ground law was passed. Before the law was introduced, the average monthly homicide rate in Florida was 0.49 death per 100,000 people, while the monthly firearm-related homicide rate was 0.29 death per 100,000. Researchers looked at data from 1999 to 2014 and found a 24% increase in Florida’s monthly homicide rate and a 32% increase in the monthly rate of firearm-related killings

Are you being charged for a violent crime even though you were defending yourself?  We can help. At the Kinsell Law Firm, we aggressively defend the rights of our clients and do all that we can to pursue the justice they deserve. Our legal team has the resources that you need to track down evidence and expert witnesses to build a strong case. Let us put our skills to work for you today.

Call (352) 356-8967, or contact our Gainesville criminal defense attorney to schedule a confidential consultation.