The State of Florida has one of the strongest protections for those claiming self-defense in the entire country. Now, that protection is almost certainly going to get even stronger. A technical change to how these cases play out in the courtroom will make it easier than ever for someone to prevail on a self-defense claim.
If one is charged with using or threatening to use violence, they can raise self-defense in all 50 states. However, in Florida, one gets the ability to raise this defense before having to go to trial. In this sense, a defendant can get two bites at the apple. First a defendant can raise self defense in a pre-trial evidentiary hearing asking the Judge for immunity from prosecution. Then even if the defendant loses this hearing the case continues. They have not been convicted of any crime and they can still proceed with a self-defense claim at trial.
Previously at these pre-trial hearings, the defendant had the burden of proof, to prove that their actions constituted self defense. Now, once the defendant provides some competent evidence that his or her actions constituted self defense, the government must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions were not self defense. This change is assuming, as widely expected, Governor Scott signs SB 128.
I have had many of these hearings, and they are usually very much toss-up, “he said-she said” situations. Now these “toss-ups” should be ruled in favor of the defendant much more frequently because the burden of proof will be on the Government. Thus Florida’s broad “Stand Your Ground” law is set to expand even more.