Monday, June 18, 2018
Opinion

Column: 'Stand your ground' changes bad for law enforcement

The Florida Legislature is considering significant changes to the "stand your ground'' law that will make our communities less safe and unnecessarily disrupt our criminal justice system while doing nothing to protect those who legally own guns.

The Legislature also has falsely suggested the proposed changes will have no financial impact. The proposed legislation fundamentally changes our jury system by requiring, for the first time in Florida legal history, that state prosecutors would have to disprove a legal defense to even begin prosecuting a case. The proposals quickly moving through this year's legislative process threaten public safety and undermine the fair and equal criminal justice system that our community deserves.

In 2005, the Legislature enacted the nation's first "stand your ground'' law, which removed a person's duty to retreat before using force in self-defense of himself, another person, his home, or property. In legal terms, "stand your ground'' expanded the scope of the long-standing defense of self-defense. Procedurally, a criminal defendant asserting "stand your ground'' immunity must establish by a preponderance of evidence (more than 50 percent standard) at a pretrial hearing that he or she acted in self-defense.

Proponents of changing the law claim it restores the fundamental principal of justice that a citizen is innocent until proven guilty. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our Constitution guarantees the innocence of the accused until every element of the crime has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. As the state attorney for Hillsborough County, I wholeheartedly embrace our extremely high burden of proof to obtain a conviction. The proposed changes, however, create an unnecessary and technical legal hurdle in the law to force the state to disprove a defense — which would often require proving a negative — beyond a reasonable doubt, upending the constitutional standard and centuries-old common law.

The impact of these changes would be monumental. Under the legislation, SB 128, a defendant simply can make an unsworn, unverified representation to a court that he acted in self-defense. Then, before prosecution can even begin, the state would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense. This would require essentially two trials. Supporters of the bill claim that it is limited to cases involving the use of firearms, but the scope of the changes encompasses all violent crime. Every murder. Every stabbing. Every beating and assault. And every domestic violence attack.

To implement these proposals, we will need more judges, more courtrooms, more prosecutors and more law enforcement officers. In Hillsborough County, this would impact more than 5,000 cases per year. If only half of those cases involve a claim of "stand your ground'' immunity, the time and resources in my office alone amount to nearly $3 million annually.

The bill wastes taxpayer dollars by needlessly increasing the workload of prosecutors and law enforcement officers. Beyond the economic impact, the proposed changes undermine public safety by taking police officers off the street and forcing them into the courtroom, and by making it harder to prosecute violent crime. The changes will embolden violent criminals and prevent justice for victims. As written, the bill is anti-law enforcement and anti-law and order.

I stand ready and willing to work with supporters of these bills who seek sensible implementation of "stand your ground'' immunity to protect responsible gun owners. At a minimum, the Legislature should require defendants to provide facts sworn under oath and reduce the standard to a preponderance of the evidence. The proposed legislation is not about guns or innocence; it is about public safety and the effective operation of our criminal justice system. I call on legislators, gun rights advocates, survivors of domestic violence and all stakeholders in our criminal justice system to work together toward sensible solutions instead of the wholesale, irresponsible changes found in these proposals.

Andrew Warren is state attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit, which covers Hillsborough County.

Comments
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

This fall voters will have 13 constitutional amendments to wade through on the ballot, but Amendment 4 should get special focus. It represents a rare opportunity to rectify a grievous provision in the Florida Constitution, which permanently revokes t...
Published: 06/13/18
Updated: 06/14/18
Editorial: How Florida and the Trump administration are tampering with your health care

Editorial: How Florida and the Trump administration are tampering with your health care

The Trump administration just can’t stop sabotaging Americans’ access to health care. Instead of giving up after it failed to persuade Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it continues to quietly undermine the law in ways that would reduce acc...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Parkland students set example for advocacy

Music is healing. Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Senior High School put that theory on display Sunday night in New York with their stirring performance at the Tony Awards — beautifully.The students, all from the school’s drama department, bro...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/13/18