Will Florida Ease Self-Defense Claims?

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Lucy McBath is afraid many more people will die if Florida Gov. Rick Scott signs a bill making it harder to prosecute when people say they commit violence in self-defense, the Associated Press reports. She lost her son, an unarmed black teenager, when a white man angry over loud music and claiming self-defense fired 10 times at an SUV filled with teenagers. The measure before Scott would require a trial-before-a-trial whenever someone invokes self-defense, making prosecutors prove the suspect doesn’t deserve immunity. Scott hasn’t said if he will sign the bill, but he is a National Rifle Association supporter, and it is an NRA priority. “If it passes in Florida, then they take that same legislation and they push it … across the country,” said McBath. Her son Jordan Davis, 17, was killed by Michael Dunn outside a Jacksonville convenience store in 2012.

Many states allow people to use deadly force to defend themselves in their own homes under the “castle doctrine.” Florida in 2005 passed a law saying that even outside a home, a person has no duty to retreat and can “stand his or her ground” anywhere they are legally allowed. Other states followed suit, and “stand your ground” defenses became much more common. The 2012 killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman opened the self-defense debate. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder after jurors received instructions on Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Florida Republicans drafted the new bill after the state Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the defendant has the burden of proof before trial. Sponsors hope Florida starts a national trend to shift that burden to prosecutors. Only four of the 22 or more state “stand your ground” laws mention this burden of proof — in Alabama, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina — and all place it on defendants.

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