Florida is seeking to expand its controversial Stand Your Ground laws in order to make it harder for prosecution to prove that those who kill others in the name of self defense might have acted outside of that realm of defense and into murder.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted for the expansion, 23 to 15. It will now head to the House and then to the desk of Governor Rick Scott.
If passed, the expansion of the law would no longer required those claiming Stand Your Ground protection to provide evidence for their claim. It would also require prosecutors to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt,” that the defendant had not acted in self defense.
The most famous case related to the Stand Your Ground law was the shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black teen who in 2012 was stalked, confronted, assaulted and shot by George Zimmerman. While 911 dispatch audio and evidence suggested that Zimmerman had actively pursued the minor, Zimmerman was ultimately found not guilty under the Stand Your Ground law.
Zimmerman’s case seemed to indicate that the law was possibly already too widely applied, but now, lawmakers are seeking to expand the law even further.
Currently, to claim Stand Your Ground in your defense, a defendant is required to provide proof that they were indeed acting in self defense and that lethal force was justified. Lawmakers are hoping to shift that burden of proof to prosecutors, as in most criminal cases. If this law change takes place, defendants would no longer be required to present evidence or take the stand to defend their claim of self defense.
In this case, prosecutors would be required to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt,” that the use of force was not justified – this is the highest legal standard and is very difficult to prove.
Of course, in criminal trials regarding Stand Your Ground laws, it is already established that the defendant committed the crime of murder, the only debate is whether or not that murder was justified. In this case, it seems reasonable to require that the accused help build his case.
We know that Stand Your Ground in Florida has increased the homicide rate, increasing gun violence rather than keeping residents safer. Now lawmakers want to make it easier than ever for anyone at all to claim Stand Your Ground – after all, now, what do they have to lose?