Florida House, Senate still at odds in 'stand your ground' dispute

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PHOTO VIA MICHAEL SAECHANG/FLICKR
  • Photo via Michael Saechang/Flickr
The Florida Senate stuck to its guns Thursday in a dispute with the House about a change to the state's “stand your ground” self-defense law.

Both chambers have broadly supported a bill (SB 128) that would shift a key burden of proof from defendants to prosecutors in “stand your ground” cases.

But with only a day left in the legislative session to reach agreement, the Senate on Thursday refused to go along with a change the House made to the bill. That could jeopardize the bill if the dispute does not get resolved Friday.

The dispute involves a House proposal to require prosecutors in pre-trial “stand your ground” hearings to overcome the asserted immunity sought by defendants through "clear and convincing evidence."

The Senate prefers a higher standard known as "beyond a reasonable doubt," and Senate sponsor Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, moved Thursday to reject the House position.

“This is certainly an issue we debated very intensely during session and now it's time to make a decision,” Bradley said.

Though lawmakers are expected to meet Monday to approve the state budget and budget-related bills, Friday is the final day they plan to consider other legislation. The session was scheduled to end Friday but had to be extended into next week to resolve the budget.

House leaders didn't immediately respond late Thursday about whether the House would accept the Senate position on the “stand your ground” bill.

But Rep. Jason Fischer, a Jacksonville Republican who is a co-sponsor of the House proposal, said, "I'm very optimistic that we will get it to the governor's desk."

The overall issue stems from a Florida Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that said defendants have the burden of proof to show they should be shielded from prosecution under the "stand your ground" law.

In "stand your ground" cases, pre-trial evidentiary hearings are held to determine whether defendants should be immune from prosecution. The bill would shift the burden from defendants to prosecutors in the pre-trial hearings.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, the National Rifle Association and other groups have lobbied for the shift.

The issue, however, has been controversial, with the Senate voting 23-15 in March to approve its version of the bill. The House approved its version last month in a 74-39 vote.

The “stand your ground law” says people can use deadly force and do not have a duty to retreat if they think it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.

Critics of Bradley's bill argue, in part, that it would help put an end to cases before all the facts are revealed. Proponents say the measure better protects the rights of defendants.

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