Florida's New Stand Your Ground Courtroom Procedure Ruled Unconstitutional

By George Khoury, Esq. on July 05, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A judge in Florida ruled that the state's updated self-defense law, still known as the stand your ground law, violates individuals' constitutional rights. Surprisingly, it's not due to the principles behind the law, but rather the judicial procedures required by the update.

However, unlike the powers vested with a federal district court judge to block laws from being enforced state- or nation-wide, as recently seen in the travel ban cases, the Florida state court judge's ruling is not binding on other courts. That means that in a courtroom right next door, another judge could continue to enforce the updated stand your ground law.

What Is Stand Your Ground?

Generally, self-defense laws only allow an individual to use enough force to repel, or subdue, an attacker. Many states require an individual to retreat to safety, if possible, rather than use force in self-defense. This even applies when a person is at home, though there are often exceptions. Stand your ground laws are used in many states and these may allow a person to use deadly force in self-defense, without having to retreat to safety if possible. Similarly, many states allow individuals to use deadly force when defending their home under, what is known as, the Castle Doctrine.

These laws were catapulted into the public eye when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman was found not guilty on both murder and manslaughter charges due to the stand your ground law, despite the fact that he shot and killed an unarmed child who was just walking in public.

Stand Your Ground Still in Effect

Florida lawmakers recently updated the stand your ground law to require state prosecutors to disprove claims of self-defense in advance of trial, at a pretrial hearing, by showing clear and convincing evidence.

Unfortunately for the lawmakers, according to Judge Milton Hirsch, the state's constitution does not permit lawmakers to proscribe judicial procedure, but rather requires the state's Supreme Court to change courtroom procedures.

State prosecutors and critics of law are pleased with this ruling, as it provides the framework to invalidate the new update statewide, assuming the decision is appealed up to the state's supreme court.

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