Wednesday, April 25, 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

‘Happy hour’ tax cuts may result in hangovers

Evidence is mounting that the $1.5 trillion tax-cut package enacted in December by congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump was a bad idea, not only for the long-run health of the economy but for the short-term political prospects of the ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

A St. Petersburg waste-to-energy plant now under construction has been billed for years as an environmentally friendly money saver. Now it looks more like a boondoggle, with the cost and mission changing on the fly. It’s yet another example of a city...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/25/18

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18