Case Information: Tashara Love v. State of Florida, No. SC18-747 (Florida Supreme Court brief filed Oct. 29, 2018).
At Issue: Florida’s “shoot first” Stand Your Ground law allows a person to use deadly force in public in self-defense, even if the person can safely retreat. Florida’s extreme version of this law facilitated the shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, who was killed when a shooter followed the teen through his own neighborhood, then claimed he needed to shoot Martin in self-defense. In 2017, the Florida legislature passed an even more extreme modification to Stand Your Ground: a “burden-shifting” amendment that would require prosecutors to prove at a pretrial hearing that a defendant who shot someone is not entitled to immunity from prosecution. This reverses the existing procedure, where people who use deadly force need to make an initial showing that Stand Your Ground applies to them. The Florida Supreme Court is now considering the constitutionality of this burden-shifting amendment.
Giffords Law Center’s Brief: Giffords Law Center’s amicus brief argues that the burden-shifting amendment is unconstitutional and violates separation-of-powers principles (principles that fully resolve the Love case but which neither party addressed). Florida’s Constitution gives courts the exclusive power to adopt procedural rules, and the legislature may not take over that function. However, in violation of the state constitution, the legislature passed a 2017 amendment that directly conflicts with rules the state Supreme Court previously announced to implement the intent of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. In addition to explaining how the burden-shifting amendment usurps the core judicial function of setting court procedures, our brief presents credible research showing that states with Stand Your Ground laws experience increased gun violence, including homicides, and that these laws disparately impact people of color. Shifting the burden of proof away from defendants who use deadly force will exacerbate these unacceptable public safety risks in Florida.