Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law
Stand Your Ground (SYG) has been a widely debated topic across the United States, especially with the numerous high-profile cases involving self-defense. Approximately twenty-two (22) states have some version of a stand your ground law. As of today, the states that have SYG laws include Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.
Most Stand Your Ground laws change the common law requirement in self-defense, which requires a duty to retreat to the best of one’s ability before using force. All stand your ground laws have some form of “no duty to retreat” language in them. In Florida, a person who uses force in “justified” self-defense cannot be arrested, detained in custody, or charged and prosecuted. The new Florida Senate Bill 128 proposes to change some procedural aspects of SYG required to prove that the defendant qualifies for immunity.
Burden of Proof in Florida
In order to fully understand the significance of Senate Bill 128, you should understand the definition of “burden of proof.” Generally, the prosecution is tasked with the proving the defendant guilty. With such a “burden” falling on the State, the defendant does not have to prove or show anything. In Florida, self-defense is an affirmative defense.
An affirmative defense is the defendant’s side of the story put forth, that if proven true, creates a justification for an otherwise unlawful act. As of now, the Florida Supreme Court, in its majority opinion in Bretherick v. State, 170 So.3d 766, (Fla. 2015), has set forth the procedure for asserting immunity under SYG.
Under Bretherick, a defendant that claims immunity under SYG must prove by a preponderance of the evidence the entitlement to the immunity at a pretrial hearing. A preponderance of the evidence is a standard of proof that a proponent must meet in a pretrial hearing. The preponderance of the evidence is defined as “more likely than not.” Until SB 128 passes, a defendant must prove that it is more likely than not that he or she is entitled to immunity.
The Effect of Proposal 128 on Florida SYG
As stated above, under Bretherick, a defendant has the burden of proving that he or she is entitled to immunity under Stand Your Ground. If Senate Bill 128 is enacted, then the burden shifts from the defendant to the State, meaning that the prosecutor will have to prove that the defendant is not entitled to SYG immunity.
Additionally, Senate Bill 128 will change the standard of proof. Currently, the standard of proof is by a “preponderance of the evidence.” If SB 128 is enacted, then the standard of proof will be “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Beyond a reasonable doubt is a higher standard of proof than preponderance of the evidence.
Therefore, the State will have to prove that the defendant is not entitled to immunity beyond a reasonable doubt if CS/SB 128 passes the Florida Legislature.
Attorney for Self-defense in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Being charged with a violent crime such as an assault, battery or homicide can be completely life changing, even if it is done in self-defense. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney to help explain Stand Your Ground law, and how it may apply to your case can alleviate some of the fear and stress caused by the trial process. Call Richard F. Della Fera, Esq. 954.514.9955