Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch ruled that lawmakers overstepped their authority in creating the law this year that forces prosecutors to disprove a defendant’s self-defense claim at a pre-trial hearing.
The judge ruled that under Florida’s constitution, that change should have been crafted by the Florida Supreme Court, not the Legislature.
“As a matter of constitutional separation of powers, that procedure cannot be legislatively modified,” Hirsch wrote in a 14-page order.
The ruling is a victory for prosecutors who have firmly opposed the law they believe makes it easier for defendants to get away with murder and other violent crime.
The law, an update to the already controversial “Stand Your Ground” statute passed over a decade ago, was pushed by the politically powerful National Rifle Association. Gov. Rick Scott signed the new law into effect in last month.
First passed in 2005, Florida’s controversial self-defense law has been criticized for fostering a shoot-first mentality – and giving killers a pass at justice. The law eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force to counter an apparent threat.
More problematic for prosecutors, the law made it easier for judges — before ever getting to a jury — to dismiss criminal charges if they deem someone acted in self-defense.
The Florida Supreme Court later ruled that defendants, in asking for immunity from criminal prosecution, must be the ones to prove they were acting in self-defense.
In Miami-Dade, judges have thrown several high-profile murder cases after pre-trial immunity hearings, but have also allowed many more to go to a jury.
But the NRA-backed bill, passed in May despite fierce opposition by prosecutors and gun-control advocates, upended the legal framework.
Now, at those pre-trial hearings, prosecutors shoulder the burden of disproving a defendant’s self-defense claim. State Attorneys contended that it essentially forces them to unfairly to try the case twice, making it easier for criminals to skate on violent charges.
Under the law, prosecutors must prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that a defendant was not acting in self-defense.
In other words, Florida's GOP legislative super-majority responded to the Florida Supreme Court's ruling that proof of "Stand Your Ground" was on the defendant who used force by changing the law to nullify the ruling and put the burden on the state to disprove self-defense, and GOP Gov. Rick Scott simply signed the law to ignore Florida's state Supreme Court entirely.
It seems patently obvious that Judge Hirsch is correct here, but Republicans given total control simply no longer care about rule of law anymore. We have plenty of national examples of this from the Trump regime, so why would Florida be any different?
Imagine that I shoot and kill someone in Florida. The state would have to prove with "clear and convincing" evidence that it wasn't self-defense. In other words, I'd be treated the way nearly every other state treats police officers who use deadly force.
Keep a close eye on this one, guys.