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“Stand Your Ground” Florida Supreme Court Holding: Criminal Defendants Have Burden of Proof to Demonstrate Justified Use of Force

“Stand your ground” legislation in Florida has been a significant aspect of the criminal justice system. Florida is one of the few states that protects the right of a person to use deadly force when threatened with great bodily harm or the possibility of death. The Florida Supreme Court came out with a ruling on July 9, 2015, that deals with a specific way in which Florida and the criminal justice system understands the use of justifiable force for self defense.

Bretherick v. State of Florida

The issue decided on by the Florida Supreme Court related to an incident with a tourist visiting Florida who during a traffic dispute in 2011 where the criminal defendant brandished his weapon and held up a truck driver who almost side-swiped the car on the highway. The defendant was arrested by Florida police with aggravated assault with a firearm. The defendant argued that because the truck driver approached the defendant first after the incident, that the brandishing of a weapon fell under the Stand Your Ground law because there was a threat of harm or death as a result of the potentially volatile situation about to occur. The lower court asserted, however, that because the truck driver walked away after seeing the gun held by the defendant, the threat for bodily harm or death had been neutralized and the continued use of the firearm to threaten the truck driver did not qualify for immunity under the Stand Your Ground law.

Stand Your Ground: Not ‘Blanket Immunity’

The Florida Supreme Court, however, was not deciding whether the argument in this case was right or wrong. The Florida Supreme Court focused on the procedures of the pre-trial evidentiary hearings, stating explicitly for the first time that Stand Your Ground is not blanket immunity, but the defendant has the burden to prove during the pre-trial evidentiary hearing that he/she should be protected from the prosecution under the self-defense law. In other words, the defendant has the burden to prove that Stand Your Ground immunity applies, rather than the prosecution having the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s use of force was not justified and therefore not provided immunity under the law.

What Does Burden of Proof and Who Possesses It Mean?

The distinction between these two concepts can be hard to distinguish but important to understand especially if a criminal defendant is looking to avail him/herself of the Stand Your Ground immunity. In criminal proceedings, it is generally up to the prosecution to prove their case against the criminal defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. In affirmative defenses, which Stand Your Ground is considered to be one, the concept requires that because the criminal defendant is putting forth a reason that would make his/her actions justifiable, it is up to him/her to prove through evidence that his/her actions are justifiable under the defense he/she is using.

In Stand Your Ground cases, this means that it is not up to the prosecution to convince the Court of the criminal defendant’s unjustifiable use of force, but the defendant must put in the time, effort, and argument to prove his/her use of force was justifiable. As the Florida Supreme Court holding suggests, the defendant must advocate on his/her own behalf to be able to be free from prosecution.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

An experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik can advocate on your behalf if you have used justifiable force to protect yourself from death and/or bodily harm from another. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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