An update to the self-defense law that helped keep George Zimmerman out of prison is unconstitutional, a Florida judge ruled Monday.
The Sunshine State’s new “Stand Your Ground” law — an NRA-backed measure shifting the burden of proof at pre-trial hearings to prosecutors — should’ve been devised by the state Supreme Court rather than the Legislature, the Miami judge said.
“As a matter of constitutional separation of powers, that procedure cannot be legislatively modified,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch wrote in the 14-page ruling obtained by the Miami Herald.
A 2015 state Supreme Court ruling previously established defendants had to prove why “Stand Your Ground,” the polarizing 2005 Florida law waiving citizens’ duty to retreat before using deadly force in the face of a threat, should cover them.
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The amended law, on the other hand, put the onus on state attorneys to provide “clear and convincing evidence” the defendant wasn’t acting in self-defense — before the case ever came before a jury.
Hirsch’s ruling marked a win for prosecutors frustrated that the law allowed defendants to more easily skirt violent criminal charges, the Herald reported.
The order isn’t binding, but could lead to a review by the state’s Supreme Court. Attorney General Pam Bondi plans to appeal the order, her spokeswoman told the AP.
Gov. Rick Scott signed the update to the 2005 statute into law last month, drawing praise from the National Rifle Association.
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“In 2008, prosecutors and some sympathetic judges found a way to usurp the law by creating a special hearing and reversing the burden of proof and have been requiring people who use self-defense to prove they are innocent,” Florida NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer said at the time.
“That’s wrong. The legislature went back and fixed it.”
Debate has long raged over “Stand Your Ground,” which played a pivotal role in Zimmerman’s walking free after fatally shooting unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin in 2012.
A jury in 2013 acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder after being instructed to take the law into account.
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