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Florida Set To Strengthen 'Stand Your Ground' Law

The Florida State Senate passed a bill March 15 that would make it easier for defendants to claim protection under the "Stand Your Ground" law.

The law allows defendants to obtain immunity from prosecution if they used force but believed at the time that their life was in danger, according to the New York Times.

While the burden of proof currently rests with the defendant, meaning they must present evidence to show that they felt their life was at risk, the proposed change would shift the burden to the prosecution.

"I think of all the people who will be saved because we did this right and put the burden of proof where it belongs," Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley, a supporter of the change, said, according to the Times. "I'm sorry if that burden seems too heavy. That's what we do in America. You are innocent until proven guilty."

The change, backed by the National Rifle Association, would result in defendants not having to take the stand when claiming Stand Your Ground protection.

Democrats opposed the bill, with some describing it as a "shoot to kill" or "how to get away with murder" bill, according to WJXT

"What constitutes being a bad dude, or being fearful of their life?" asked Democratic state Sen. Bobby Powell, the Times reported. "Is it me walking down the street, looking suspicious? Does that make somebody fearful of their life? Does that mean I no longer have the reason to live?"

Florida's gun laws gained international attention after unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in 2012. Although Zimmerman did not make a Stand Your Ground defense, he argued that he acted in self-defense and was acquitted.

"We live in a society where many of us are guilty until proven innocent every day. And, in this instance," Powell added with surprise, "we want to take the burden of proof and shift it to the prosecution."

However, Republican state Sen. Rob Bradley, a supporter of the measure, insisted it was the right move because people's freedom was at stake. Therefore, "The burden should be high on the government," he argued.

Views on the bill were not divided along party lines. Republican State Senator Anitere Flores joined Democrats in opposition.

"There's going to be a cost to the state attorneys, and now I have two state attorneys who are calling and concerned, and you just have to take those things into account," Flores told WJXT.

Legal professionals criticized the proposal.

"If all they have to do is file a motion and say 'I claim Stand Your Ground,' we are going to have to go through an entire trial because we don't know what specific facts they are using or claiming," said Glenn Hess, president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorney's Association, according to the Times. "We have to present our whole case. There is something wrong with that."

Sources: New York Times, WJXT / Photo credit: Non Profit Organization Lawyers Oakland/Wikimedia Commons

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