On Friday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law new legal protections for individuals who defend themselves with firearms.
Senate Bill 128 shifts the burden of proof requirement from the accused to state prosecutors during certain legal proceedings when someone claims he fired a gun in self-defense. The law, which goes into effect immediately, requires that state prosecutors present evidence to overcome a defendant's claim that they employed a justifiable use of force. If the prosecutors can't show "clear and convincing evidence" that the accused did not shoot in self-defense, the case will not go to trial.
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"If the State of Florida is going to accuse a citizen of committing a crime, the State of Florida should have the burden of proof at each and every part of the proceeding," Florida Senate President Joe Negron (R) said in a statement. "This legislation requires the state to meet the standard of clear and convincing evidence to overcome an immunity claim. I am grateful to Governor Scott for signing this huge step towards better protection of the constitutional freedoms guaranteed to all citizens."
"A defendant always has the presumption of innocence and the state always has a burden of proof," said State Senator Rob Bradley (R) in a statement. "This fundamental premise is guaranteed in our Constitution and understood intuitively by all Floridians. Fidelity to the Constitution is our most important responsibility as legislators, and I am pleased to see this legislation earn the support of Governor Scott today."
The National Rifle Association and United Sportsmen of Florida cheered the signing. Marion Hammer, former NRA president and current lobbyist, said the law restrains prosecutors and judges who had worked to flip the burden of proof from the state to the accused.
"With no legislative authority, they created a special ‘Stand Your Ground' hearing and reversed the burden of proof from the state to the victim," Hammer said in an email to supporters. "Through case law, they changed a legislative law they didn't like. They effectively created the presumption of guilt for the exercise of self-defense.
"This bill fixes it. It places the burden of proof back on the state where it belongs. And it restores the right of the presumption of innocence and the right of self-defense."