Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch has ruled that Florida's recently amended self-defense law was unconstitutional. The nonbinding ruling asserted that only the Florida Supreme Court had the authority to amend the state's so-called "Stand Your Ground" law.
On July 3, Hirsch ruled that SB 128, a law that updated Stand Your Ground, was unconstitutional because it was passed by the Florida Legislature instead of the Florida Supreme Court, the Miami Herald reports.
"As a matter of constitutional separation of powers, that procedure cannot be legislatively modified," Hirsch wrote in a court order.
Stand Your Ground, a Florida law adopted in 2005, allows citizens to use firearms during altercations without attempting to retreat first. Critics of the law have asserted that it allows murderers to go free by citing self defense.
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In December 2016, GOP state Sen. Rob Bradley of Florida introduced SB 128. The bill was designed to shift the burden of proof that a firearm was used in self defense from the defendant to the prosecutor. The updated version of Stand Your Ground would require prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants were not acting in self defense in for a murder trial to proceed.
"We have an obligation to zealously guard the protections granted us all in the Constitution," Bradley said when he announced the legislation, according to the Miami New Times.
On June 9, Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida signed SB 128 into law. The bill had received virtually no support from Democrats in the Florida Legislature, according to Reuters.
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Hirsch ruled that SB 128 was unconstitutional while hearing the cases of Liletha Rutherford and Omar Rodriguez. Rutherford is accused of brandishing a firearm during an argument with a couple while Rodriguez is accused of fatally shooting a neighbor during an argument over a pet dog relieving itself on his yard.
The ruling means that both Rutherford and Rodriguez will have to prove that their use of firearms were legal under Stand Your Ground. Rodriguez's attorney, Alan Ross, blasted the court decision.
"Today, the judge ruled that the law is unconstitutional, so as a result, nobody can proceed at least in this division, on the new law," Ross told WSVN. "I'm disappointed. I could have litigated this motion months ago, and we intentionally waited for the new law."
Both Rutherford and Rodriguez's cases have been rescheduled. If either is unable to prove that they deserve immunity under Stand Your Ground, they can appeal. If that comes to pass, Hirsch's ruling can reach the Florida Supreme Court.
Hirsch's ruling does not apply to other trial courts in Florida.