Court Rules Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law is Unconstitutional

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Behind most debates about the validity of the Second Amendment is a larger question about when a person has the right to use force in self defense. Many feel like the right to self defense is limitless. This hasn’t always been the opinion of the courts, though, and a Florida Judge has just struck a major blow to the rights of the state’s citizens.

The so-called “stand your ground” law, as Fox reports, “required prosecutors to disprove a defendant’s self-defense case at pretrial hearings.” If the prosecutor could not prove that the incident was not self defense, than the case didn’t proceed in a criminal court.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch, on Monday, upended that rule. His decision states that lawmakers who crafted the law exceeded their authority. “As a matter of constitutional separation of powers, that procedure cannot be legislatively modified,” Hirsch wrote.

The Florida Supreme Court will ultimately decide the issue. They’d previously weighed in, altering the provision to make the burden of proof the responsibility of the defendant and not the prosecution. Many felt like this was a reversal of the age-old “innocent until proven guilty” philosophy, yet it still allowed for active self-defense.

And the move was supported by some unlikely groups. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and even the National Rifle Association, endorsed the revised test. The shift of focus to the defendant was viewed by many as an opportunity to state their case. State prosecutors lamented the loss of control this gave them, as they were not allowed to counter the narratives created by the defendants. Without what the law specified as “clear and convincing” evidence of criminal acts, cases would be dismissed.

The original statute allowed for Floridians to use deadly force if they felt like their lives were in danger. Most states require a victim to retreat from the danger, or attempt to, before deadly force can be justified.

“A person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if: He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself,” the Florida law reads.

The law took center-stage in 2012 when the country was gripped with the Trayvon Martin shooting. George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin after the teenager began assaulting him. The police who investigated the shooting refused to file charges against Zimmerman, claiming that the shooting met the standards of the “stand your ground” law.  When Zimmerman finally did face second degree murder charges, he was acquitted.

The current Florida ruling could be tested by the state’s Supreme Court, and potentially by the Supreme Court itself. This one decision may have a significant impact on the rights of Americans who feel they have the right to respond with any means necessary to end threats on their lives. .