“Innocent until proven guilty” has always been a foundational tenet of the United States justice system, but until this week Floridians involved in self-defense shootings were presumed guilty in pre-trial hearings.
Now, with the passage of SB 128, the state will be required to bring “clear and convincing evidence” that self-defense shootings are unjustified before prosecuting the person involved in the incident.
The Florida legislature pioneered the modern “stand your ground” movement by passing a law in 2005 that granted immunity from arrest, detainment, charging and prosecuting unless an investigation by the state revealed a shooting was not lawful self-defense.
In 2015, however, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that defendants carry the burden of proof in the pre-trial hearings designed to determine the lawfulness of the shooting. According to this ruling, courts do not presume the innocence of the defendants. Defendants must prove their innocence with evidence that suggests the shooting was legal self-defense. If a judge determines that the defendant likely broke the law, they will face prosecution at the full trial.
SB 128 moves the burden of proof from the defendant to the state in these hearings. Now state prosecutors will have to prove there is “clear and convincing evidence” that suggests the shooting was illegal.
“Clear and convincing evidence” is not the highest burden of proof. The Florida Senate wanted the standard to be the much higher “beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to the Miami Herald. The House objected to such a high standard, and the Senate eventually agreed in exchange for the House’s support on an unrelated piece of legislation.
Not everyone, of course, believes the legislature made the right decision. Gun control proponents argue that SB 128 will place too great a burden on state prosecutors and force them to prove the defendant’s guilt twice in one case.
“This expansion would place an enormous burden on our state’s hardworking prosecutors, and further create a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ culture that would threaten the lives of people in our state, especially those in marginalized communities,” said Michelle Gajda with Moms Demand Action in a statement. “I am absolutely heartbroken that Governor Scott is expected to sign this dangerous measure instead of listening to the legitimate concerns raised by gun violence survivors and state prosecutors.”
Gajda is right about one thing: Gov. Scott, a long-time gun rights proponent, is expected to sign SB 128 within the next few days. It will take effect immediately.