The man that authored the original bill in 2005 and is often referred to as the “Godfather of Stand Your Ground” in Florida, Rep. Dennis Baxley (R), introduced HB 169 on September 15, 2015 that puts the burden of proof on the prosecution once a prima facie claim of self-defense immunity is raised by the person who fights back against an attack or the threat of an attack.
Usually, a person claiming self-defense must go before a judge to prove the claim is justified. Under this bill and the companion piece of legislation introduced in the Senate by Sen. Rob Bradley (R), the self-defense immunity argument or the “use or threatened use of defensive force” would be bolstered. If prosecutors fail to prove the defendant did not act in self-defense, a judge could stop the case at the pre-trial hearing stage. Moreover, if dismissed at this stage, defendants may be due up to $200,000 from the state attorney to cover a defendant’s attorney fees, court costs, and other expenses.
The companion bills would reverse a July Florida Supreme Court decision that said the burden at a pretrial hearing is on defendants to show by a preponderance, or majority, of the evidence that they qualify for the defense.
Prosecutors and state attorneys oppose the bills, claiming every defendant would now claim self-defense and would also cause the state to prove its case twice. And having to award fees to defendants would seriously burden the budgets of prosecutors and may result in cutbacks and fewer prosecutions, they argue.
Both Baxley and Bradley say the presumption of innocence is a basic tenet of the judicial system, and that they simply wanted to clarify and strengthen that for anyone who claims self-defense.
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