In the upcoming legislative session, the Florida Senate will be debating changes to Florida's Stand Your Ground law.
This controversial law permits citizens to use force, including deadly force, if faced with imminent death or serious bodily harm or the threat of imminent death or serious bodily harm. This law permits a criminal defendant to file a pretrial motion whereby the court must determine whether immunity from criminal prosecution can be applied.
Stand Your Ground is not a trial defense but a pretrial immunity applied to defendants who meet the legal criteria. In other words, if a defendant prevails in their Stand Your Ground hearing (which is conducted before a judge, not a jury), the defendant cannot be prosecuted for their alleged offense. The judge would apply the immunity and dismiss the charges.
Currently, the defendant has the burden to establish that they rightfully used self-defense. The proposed change to the law would make it so that the State Attorney's Office has the burden to prove why Stand Your Ground immunity does not apply.
Stand Your Ground immunity applies to situations outside of your home or car, where you are presumed to have a right of self-defense if somebody unlawfully intrudes. In order for Stand Your Ground immunity to apply, you must be in a place where you have a legal right to be. That means you are not in the process of committing a crime nor are you trespassing. Secondly, you must be faced with an imminent and present threat of death or great bodily harm. Somebody shouting some mean words at you from a distance is not sufficient. But somebody making a clear threat while advancing toward you, armed or not, may trigger Stand Your Ground protection. It's very much a fact-based analysis with each instance posing different questions.
The proposed change to the law would place the burden on the State to prove why Stand Your Ground should not be applied. This change could make it possible for defendants to assert a Stand Your Ground claim without having to testify themselves.
Eric Matheny is a Miami-Dade County and Broward County criminal defense attorney.