Florida has a nifty new variation on “Stand your Ground” legislation in the works. Not only would it make it easier for criminal defendants to escape murder prosecutions by claiming self-defense, but it would also require the state to reimburse defendants for their trouble, to the tune of up to $200,000 for court costs and attorney fees. Not surprisingly, the bill has the backing of the NRA and would give defendants a huge six-figure incentive to claim self-defense. As we know, Stand Your Ground has already done a terrific job of helping violent criminals beat prosecution, so this new wrinkle should ensure even more mayhem, yay.
As Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell explains, House Bill 169 would shift the burden of proof to prosecutors in Stand Your Ground cases, “so that anyone who claims self-defense is essentially assumed to be telling the truth unless the state can prove otherwise, often in a pre-trial immunity hearing.” Look, we understand “presumed innocent until proven guilty,” but isn’t that supposed to happen in a trial?
Maxwell also suspects that the bill’s proponents included the $200K payout for defendants’ “court costs, reasonable private attorney fees and related expenses” as a strategic distraction, “just so they could later take it out, claiming it was now a thoughtful compromise.” Hey, that’s clever!
It’s a tactic they’ve used before with extremist bills — such as an early version of the “Docs vs. Glocks” law that sought to imprison pediatricians who discussed gun safety with patients.
And surprise, surprise: The bill’s Senate sponsor, state Sen. Rob Bradley, said that as a matter of fact, he would be willing to strip that provision, since the cost of paying up to $200k to every brave ground-stander would almost certainly mean counties would have to make cuts elsewhere — probably in prosecutors’ offices. Other than that one provision, both Bradley and state Rep. Dennis Baxley, who introduced the bill in the Florida House, think it’s a dandy piece of legislation that protects the rights of the accused. Yes, that’s two Tuff-On-Crime Florida Republicans who’ve suddenly become sympathetic to criminal defendants, as long as they’ve been accused of blowing someone away with their responsibly owned firearm.
Maxwell predicts that if HB 169 becomes law, “most anyone charged should claim self-defense. There’s no reason not to.” And he reminds us of the 2012 Tampa Bay Times investigation that found roughly 70 percent of defendants claiming they’d been “standing their ground” got off — including charming cases like a guy who shot a man lying on the ground and successfully claimed self-defense. The Times’ investigation concluded: “In nearly a third of the cases … defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim — and still went free.”
And now Florida legislators — with NRA lobbyists smiling benevolently in the background — want to make it even easier for people who kill with a gun to walk away without any consequences, and possibly even a cash bonus, because surely that’s what the Founders had in mind.