Florida justices quietly approve ‘Stand Your Ground on Steroids’

a roadside billboard references Florida's stand your ground law stating: Visitor Warning: Florida residents can use deadly force

By Noreen Marcus,

Sometimes footnotes hold treasures. Or they may contain dynamite, like the one in a ruling the Florida Supreme Court released Thursday.

Footnote 3 of the opinion in Tashara Love v. State blows off a challenge to a law that seems to violate basic, textbook criminal procedure.

Defendants usually have to prove their own defenses. But that’s not how a 2017 addition to the controversial Stand Your Ground law works.

The updated law burdens prosecutors with proving this negative beyond a reasonable doubt: Fear was not necessarily the reason a defendant used deadly force for self-defense. If the prosecutor fails this tough test, the defendant wins immunity from prosecution.

Adam Skaggs, chief counsel of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, has called the 2017 law “Stand Your Ground on steroids.” Before the Supreme Court ruled, he said he hoped the case would not empower gun-rights supporters.

“Our concern is that just as Florida was the lab for more permissive regulations of concealed [weapons] carry, and that spread across the country, and Stand Your Ground, which has spread, the gun lobby will again promote this across the country,” Skaggs said.

Court ignores friends’ advice

Florida’s League of Prosecutors and gun-control advocates tried to convince the conservative high court to defy the Legislature by declaring the law unconstitutional. But the league and its allies were amici, or, friends of the court–not parties–so the justices could easily ignore their argument and focus narrowly on how far back the law should go to reopen old Stand Your Ground (SYG) cases.

The parties had their own reasons for not challenging the SYG defense. Love’s lawyer wanted to use it on her behalf; the state Attorney General’s office tends to defend legislation, and its Republican bosses have no problem with this pro-gun law.

As Footnote 3 put it, since the law’s validity wasn’t directly in front of the court, “We thus do not address this issue,” Chief Justice Charles Canady wrote for the panel. Under their unanimous interpretation, Love won a new immunity hearing. The court reversed the Third District Court of Appeal, which had ruled against her.

A headshot of Florida Chief Justice Charles Canady, a balding man with glasses dressed in a suit and tie
Florida Chief Justice Charles Canady Photo: The Federalist Society

Concluding a highly technical analysis, the Supreme Court drew a bright line of June 9, 2017, the law’s effective date, for redoing immunity hearings to incorporate the 2017 SYG test. Any hearings held prior to that date stand. No one knows how many cases must be reopened.

Florida legislators showed their loyalty to the National Rifle Association when they passed the original Stand Your Ground law in 2005. It allows residents to use deadly force if they “reasonably believe” they’re being threatened in a public space, just as in their homes. No longer must they retreat; if they act in self-defense, they’re safe from prosecution and civil liability.

Then lawyers for wannabe cop George Zimmerman successfully used a SYG defense after he shot and killed an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin and started a commotion that continues to this day.

Court to prosecutor: Don’t speak

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and other prosecutors have watched solid cases crumble and victims’ families suffer in the face of shaky self-defense claims. Trial judges across the state have applied the law so many different ways, defendants can be immunized in one courtroom and convicted in another on similar facts.

Rundle’s office charged Tashara Love with attempted second-degree murder after a 2015 nightclub shooting. Love claims the man she shot was about to hit her daughter.

A headshot of Tahshara Love, a black woman with long light red hair.
Tashara Love

When the case got to the Supreme Court, Rundle asked to sign onto the League of Prosecutors’ brief, but the court turned her down. Perhaps the justices didn’t like the optics of ignoring the prosecutor in the matter they were deciding.

After Thursday’s ruling, Rundle did not respond to a Florida Bulldog question about her request. In a November 2018 interview, she said, “I want them [the justices] to know I’m consistent.”

The 2017 law makes overcoming SYG immunity much harder, Rundle said. If the facts against self-defense are overwhelming—for example, when the victim suffered repeated gunshots—“We’re going to win that. But on the close cases, we’re losing them.’’

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Latest comments

  • So a defendant does NOT need to PROVE there was a justification for FEAR for their life if they shoot or harms somebody in “self-defense”. All a defendant in an assault case need do, is to CLAIM a FEAR for their life, and the court must by DEFAULT accept that defense UNLESS PROVEN otherwise by the prosecution, beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Now the BURDEN OF PROOF, beyond a reasonable doubt, is upon the prosecution to DISPROVE that FEAR and its underlying cause. Hundreds of cases of assault and even murder have been dismissed solely on the word of the defendant claiming fear for their life, even in cases where they initiated the fight,

    This ruling has been strongly supported by the NRA and White Nationalists groups. Imagine how happy armed White Nationalists and criminal Gang Bangers are, knowing when they start a conflict with somebody and shoot them, they can then claim they are protected from prosecution under the Florida Stand Your Ground Law.

    Annie get your guns. It’s Florida where anything goes.

  • George used self defense not stand your ground in his trial . Anything else is a lie,

  • You wouldn’t be talking like that if you had ever been the victim of a violent assault, mugging, home invasion, car-jacking, or even some meth head trying to steal your purse or wallet. Too many innocent people are walking around afraid that they will become the next victim! And let’s get real about the Gang Bangers. Most of the time they’re shooting each other, so who cares? How would YOU suggest people protect themselves? Call the police? Great idea…unless of course, the victim is already dead or incapacitated by the attacker. There has ALWAYS been violent crime….and there always will be! Good people do the best they can – and bad people will always be there to victimize them. That’s the way the world is and there’s NOTHING anyone can do about it! SYG won’t be the final and effective solution to violence, but at least it’s a start! The sign should say CRIMINAL WARNING instead of VISITOR WARNING!

  • The problem is, this just opens the door wider for trigger-happy sorts who want to shoot first and think later.

  • “Then lawyers for wannabe cop George Zimmerman successfully used a SYG defense after he shot and killed an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin and started a commotion that continues to this day.”

    This is flat out false. Is the author simply ignorant or actually a liar?

  • If you think Zimmerman was in the wrong, you have no clue. And while your at it, explain little miss prosecutor throwing the book at a woman for self defense… a little light reading on what happened below. Also I guess Angela Corey got what she had coming to her after the travesty of trying to convict Zimmerman. And then this mess

  • I GUESS if you use CAPS you’re SUPPOSED to be THE one who WINS? Because CAPS when NOT coupled with FACTS is JUST whining…..

  • 1. Great billboard if it were actually real. And you did succeed at gaining article views simply due to a radical sensationalized title.
    2. [“Defendants usually have to prove their own defenses.”]. – FALSE. Defendant’s are innocent until proven guilty in America. It’s the prosecution that has to prove its case, not the defendant (that’s just basic law 101).
    3. Zimmerman was not a SYG case. So again, FALSE.
    4. [“Florida legislators showed their loyalty to the National Rifle Association”]. – Wow That’s what you got out of the ruling? The ruling showed loyalty to innocent victims of attack. People. Human beings. A victim of attack SHOULD be safe from prosecution and civil liability if they’ve defended their life from a criminal attack. So would rather have a victim face prosecution or civil liability for defending their life if they get attacked by a criminal? Really?
    – If someone is against Stand Your Ground laws, then they simply don’t want people to be able to defend themselves.
    – And the only people that don’t want other people to be able to defend themselves… are criminals.

  • I’ll submit that the person asserting something as being “basic law 101” does not, in fact, understand basic law 101. Yes, the prosecution’s burden of proof requires proving each element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict – I will give you that. However, if a defendant offers up an affirmative defense (as justification for the actions taken, such as insanity, etc.), then the defendant must generally prove the affirmative defense, usually by a preponderance of the evidence (a much lower standard). The FL law shifts that typical burden to the prosecution to prove a negative under an extremely high standard (which is almost impossible to do).

    The issue that is at hand here is where to draw the line? You don’t want a law that encourages a shoot-first mentality, but you also don’t want to create a situation where someone who is legitimately fearful of their life can potentially be prosecuted for their actions to defend themselves. I personally think the law goes too far and is likely to have bad consequences where some people will resort to shooting someone unnecessarily because it’s unlikely that a prosecutor would be able to hold them accountable for their actions. I personally don’t think this is a good situation to create. If you carry a firearm for self-defense, it should be used as a last resort.

    Note that I’m both a member of the Florida bar and a CCW permit holder.

  • “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
    Blackstone’s Ratio.

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