Monday, April 23, 2018
Politics

Senate passes 'stand your ground' law changes to benefit defendants

TALLAHASSEE — This could be the year the Republican-led Florida Legislature succeeds in enacting a controversial change to the state's "stand your ground" law that prosecutors warn could lead to a flood of self-defense claims and would force state attorneys to essentially try cases twice.

For the second consecutive session, Florida senators on Wednesday approved a bill (SB 128) from Fleming Island Republican Sen. Rob Bradley to shift the burden of proof — from the defendant to the prosecutor — in the pretrial phase of "stand your ground" cases.

The Senate voted 23-15 on Wednesday, mostly along party lines and drawing praise from Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

"If a prosecutor doesn't have the evidence to prevail at this immunity hearing … the prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to win at trial," said Bradley, himself a former prosecutor. "Innocent people will not go free as a result of this bill; this bill isn't about creating loopholes."

Currently, defendants who claim "stand your ground" have to prove before trial why they're entitled to immunity from prosecution under the 2005 law, which allows individuals to use deadly force in self-defense — with no obligation to retreat or flee.

If prosecutors now had that burden in the pretrial phase, "why would they (defendants) not just raise a defense, sit back and watch the prosecution put on most of the trial — with the highest standard of proof — and see how it goes? Why wouldn't they do that in every single case?" said Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami.

If the bill was already law, for example: In the recent high-profile case of former Tampa police captain Curtis Reeves, rather than requesting immunity from prosecution for allegedly killing Chad Oulson at a movie theater, Reeves wouldn't have had the pressure to explain himself before trial.

Rather, by Reeves asserting "stand your ground," Pasco County state attorneys would have had to show evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt" — the same standard required at trial — of why Reeves should still be prosecuted. As happens now, a judge — not a jury — would decide whether the case advanced to trial.

Now it's up to the House to finish considering its bill (HB 245), which already passed the milestone of clearing the same committee that abruptly killed it before the 2016 session began. It faces only one more hearing — a signal it's marked as a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

In Wednesday's Senate vote, Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores — Negron's No. 2 in the chamber — broke party ranks and voted with 14 Democrats in opposition, even though she previously approved the bill twice in committee this year.

Several Democrats said they worry about the potential consequences of Bradley's bill — particularly arguing it removes any risk for defendants to assert they legally stood their ground when accused of a violent crime. Forcing prosecutors to prove otherwise, both before trial and again at trial, would put more work on already-strapped and underfunded state attorneys' offices, they argue.

Broward County Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer, of Lighthouse Point, said the bill puts prosecutors "in the position of having to prove a negative. That's a very difficult proposition regardless of the issue."

"When you add to that, in order to prove that negative, a prosecutor needs witnesses," Farmer said, "this bill has unintended consequences of incentivizing shoot-to-kill. Dead men tell no tales."

Proponents of the measure, including the NRA's Tallahassee lobbyist, Marion Hammer, argue the bill simply clarifies what lawmakers intended when they adopted "stand your ground" 12 years ago.

Hammer has said the prosecution was always supposed to have the burden of proof before trial. She blames "antigun" prosecutors and judges for creating the current framework requiring defendants to justify their immunity — a process the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2015 was legal and appropriate.

Contact Kristen M. Clark at [email protected] Follow @ByKristenMClark

Comments
Having Cuba in the name of your company can be a financial risk and there is no solution

Having Cuba in the name of your company can be a financial risk and there is no solution

With the third largest Cuban American population, Cuba’s culture is celebrated throughout the Tampa Bay area and in a diversity of ways.Flags hang in homes, fashion is worn, music performed, food served.But be wary of honoring that heritage by puttin...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Trump says he doesn’t think personal lawyer will ‘flip’

Trump says he doesn’t think personal lawyer will ‘flip’

WEST PALM BEACH — President Donald Trump said Saturday that he doesn’t expect Michael Cohen, his longtime personal lawyer and fixer, to "flip" as the government investigates Cohen’s business dealings. Trump, in a series of tweets fired from Florida o...
Published: 04/21/18

Vive la France: Trump hosts glitzy White House state dinner

WASHINGTON — Now it’s President Donald Trump’s turn to pull off the ultimate charm offensive. Wined and dined on multiple state visits during his tour of Asia last year, Trump is paying it forward and celebrating nearly 250 years of U.S.-French relat...
Published: 04/21/18
Romano: Okay, now who sounds like a hysterical teen talking about guns?

Romano: Okay, now who sounds like a hysterical teen talking about guns?

The writer of the letter sounds hysterical. Perhaps a little desperate. And maybe that’s just who Marion Hammer is these days.Most of the world knows her as the take-no-prisoners maven of the National Rifle Association who directs Florida politicians...
Published: 04/21/18
Rick Scott’s term limits idea: Hugely popular and highly unrealistic

Rick Scott’s term limits idea: Hugely popular and highly unrealistic

WASHINGTON — Gov. Rick Scott’s first policy idea as a U.S. Senate candidate won’t happen and most of his fellow Republicans don’t support it.But it’s a surefire applause line at political rallies.Scott wants term limits for members of Congress: 12 ye...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Ex-FBI deputy director ‘disappointed’ in Comey comments

Ex-FBI deputy director ‘disappointed’ in Comey comments

WASHINGTON — Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director, is "very upset and disappointed" by comments made by his former boss James Comey that contradict his account of a disclosure to the news media, McCabe’s lawyer said Friday. "Andy has at all ...
Published: 04/20/18
Carlton: Mayor’s race: plot twists, meteoric rises, candidate implosions. It’s what we do in Tampa.

Carlton: Mayor’s race: plot twists, meteoric rises, candidate implosions. It’s what we do in Tampa.

The one thing you can say for sure about electing a mayor in Tampa is you can’t really say anything for sure.Historical proof: A couple of elections ago, Harvard-educated hometown-boy-gone-to-Washington Frank Sanchez was going to be our next mayor, h...
Published: 04/20/18
Carlton: Kids, want to make them listen? Vote

Carlton: Kids, want to make them listen? Vote

Today across America, high school students are expected to walk out of class in their latest show of solidarity against gun violence and elected officials unwilling to do much about it. It marks a grim anniversary — 19 years since Columbine bra...
Published: 04/20/18
Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

TAMPA — For months, Tampa political aficionados have speculated: Will she or won’t she?Does Jane Castor, the city’s first woman police chief and presumed heavyweight mayoral candidate, really want the job? Asked and answered. Castor filed paperwork T...
Published: 04/19/18
Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

TAMPA — President Donald Trump has tweeted "trade wars are good, and easy to win."Don’t believe it, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce told Tampa business and political leaders on Wednesday."We share more with you than with anybody els...
Published: 04/19/18