Florida, well known for its “Stand Your Ground” defense, is poised to alter its law significantly, making it easier for defendants to use it, the New York Times reports. The state legislature is on the verge of passing legislation that would bolster self-defense laws and shift the burden to prosecutors during immunity hearings to show that such laws should not apply. The Senate passed a revised bill yesterday, 23 to 15. The House will take in up in the coming weeks. Gov. Rick Scott, a strong proponent of gun rights, is expected to sign the final measure. “I think of all the people who will be saved because we did this right and put the burden of proof where it belongs,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, an author of the original 2005 Stand Your Ground law. “I’m sorry if that burden seems too heavy. That’s what we do in America. You are innocent until proven guilty.”
Florida became a symbol of strong self-defense laws after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in 2012 and was acquitted when a jury found he was justified in pulling the trigger. If the new measure is enacted, Florida would become the first state to put the onus on prosecutors at immunity hearings. The burden of proof would be shifted to prosecutors, and defendants would no longer have to present evidence, typically by taking the stand, to prove their claim of self-defense. Instead, prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt — the highest legal standard — that the use of force was not justified.