A Miami judge found Florida’s recently updated “stand your ground” law to be unconstitutional on Monday, rolling back a defendant-friendly change to an already defendant-friendly law.
The new version of the statute, which Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed just last month, makes it easier for defendants to claim self-defense in shootings and potentially have the case against them thrown out. Under the revised law, prosecutors have the burden to prove that defendants who claim they shot in self-defense are wrong, rather than defendants having to prove they’re right.
If a defendant acted in self-defense, the judge can dismiss related criminal charges. The National Rifle Association played a major hand in pushing through the new legislation.
But Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch held that under the state’s constitution, this change to the law could be made only by the Florida Supreme Court and not by the legislature. The Miami Herald noted that Hirsch’s ruling is not binding on other trial courts.
Opponents of the law have long argued that it encourages gun owners to shoot first and enables defendants to get away with murder. Since the original law passed in 2005, gun-related homicides have risen 31.6 percent in Florida, a JAMA Internal Medicine study found last year.
Hirsch’s ruling came in two separate cases, one against Omar Rodriguez, who is claiming self-defense after shooting and killing a man who was walking his dog. Rodriguez’s lawyer, Alan Ross, expressed frustration with Monday’s ruling.
“I’m disappointed,” Ross said. “I could have litigated this motion months ago, and we intentionally waited for the new law.”
The stand-your-ground law is most famously associated with the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. Although the defense did not explicitly raise the law, a juror later said it was on the jury’s mind.