A second Miami judge has ruled that the Florida Legislature’s decision to broaden the protection of the long-controversial "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law is unconstitutional.
The ruling adds to an on-going legal fight over whether lawmakers overstepped their authority when they revised the law to shift the burden to prosecutors, who are now forced to disprove a defendant's claim of self-defense in hearings mandated before any trial can take place.
Last month, Miami judge Milton Hirsch ruled that under the state's constitution, only the Florida Supreme Court could make that change. The state is challenging the ruling to an appellate court, putting the Florida Attorney General's Office in the unusual position of siding with a criminal defendant. Statewide, prosecutors originally opposed the change to the law.
This week, a second judge, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Alan Fine, issued a ruling siding with Hirsch.
"It is unavoidably true that the Florida Constitution gives the Legislature no authority to enact legislation governing the practice or procedure in a court of law,” Fine wrote in his order. “The only such grant is to the Supreme Court."
He ruled in the case of Tashara Love, who is charged with attempted murder for shooting a man outside a Miami strip club in 2015.
Like Hirsch's ruling, Fine's findings are not binding. Other trial judges across Florida can follow the law until appeals courts, and most likely the Florida Supreme Court, decide on the issue.
First passed in 2005, Florida’s self-defense law has been criticized for fostering a shoot-first mentality – and giving killers a pass at justice. The law eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force to counter an apparent threat.
More problematic for prosecutors, the law made it easier for judges, before ever getting to a jury, to dismiss criminal charges if they deem someone acted in self-defense. The Florida Supreme Court later ruled that defendants, in asking for immunity from criminal prosecution, must be the ones to prove they were acting in self-defense.
But lawmakers, pushed by the politically powerful National Rifle Association, in May passed a law that mandated that prosecutors should shoulder the burden of disproving a defendant’s self-defense claim. State Attorneys contended that it essentially forces them to unfairly to try the case twice, making it easier for criminals to skate on violent charges. Under the law, prosecutors must prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that a defendant was not acting in self-defense.