The Florida Senate has approved a bill clarifying that prosecutors, not the accused, have the burden of proof in pre-trial hearings for people seeking immunity through the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

Senate Bill 128 passed Wednesday, March 15 on a 23-15 vote. Now the House is considering its version of the bill—HB 245.

“Under our Constitution, Floridians accused of crimes, no matter how serious, are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” said Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. “This legislation affirms that constitutional right.”

Current law says a defendant is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action if that person can prove justification for using deadly force. Pre-trial hearings are held to determine immunity, explained lawyer David Katz of Katz & Phillips, P.A., an Independent Program Attorney for U.S. Law Shield of Florida.

“The Florida Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision in Jared Bretherick v. State of Florida, determined that the legislature intended that defendants were required to show evidence that they are entitled to the immunity,” Katz said.

But, he added, SB 128 would reverse that and make pre-trial procedures consistent with the Constitution.

“In our system of justice, the government’s prosecutors have the burden of proof in criminal cases, and that’s from start to finish,” Katz said. “That’s what our Constitution says. Floridians understand this and expect this.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, introduced a similar measure last year, but it died in the House.

“Fidelity to the Constitution is our most important responsibility as legislators, and I am pleased to see this legislation earn the support of my Senate colleagues today,” Bradley said in a statement. “A defendant always has the presumption of innocence, and the state always has a burden of proof.

“This fundamental premise is guaranteed in our Constitution and understood intuitively by all Floridians.”

Meanwhile, in the House, two other self-defense bills were steadily moving through committees.

The House Criminal Justice Committee approved both bills March 15 and referred them to the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, sponsored both measures.

HB 779 would shield holders of concealed carry licenses from criminal charges for temporary “open exposure of a firearm.” The criminal justice committee approved it with a 9-5 vote.

The other Combee bill, HB 849, would end restrictions that prevent churches from allowing firearms on church property if those facilities also serve as school classrooms. The criminal justice committee moved it forward with a 10-2 vote. — by Bill Miller, contributor, Texas & U.S. Law Shield blog