Case Information: Omar Rodriguez v. State of Florida, No. 3D17-1633 (Florida Court of Appeal brief filed Sept. 20, 2017).
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 is safely able to avoid a confrontation by retreating. Florida’s extreme version of this law gained notoriety in 2012 after an unarmed 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, was killed by a shooter who followed Martin through his own neighborhood, then claimed he needed to shoot the teen in self-defense. In 2017, Florida’s legislature passed an even more extreme amendment to Stand Your Ground: a “burden-shifting” law that would require prosecutors to prove at a pretrial hearing that a criminal defendant who shot someone is not entitled to immunity from prosecution. This reverses the existing procedure, where defendants who use deadly force need to make an initial showing that Stand Your Ground applies to them. Fortunately, a trial court struck down the dangerous amendment as violating the separation-of-powers doctrine. Supporters of the amendment recently appealed that decision to Florida’s intermediate appellate court.
The Law Center’s Brief: The Law Center filed a brief arguing that the trial court correctly determined that Florida’s extreme new amendments to the Stand Your Ground law are unconstitutional. The stakes are high: the 2017 amendment would require prosecutors to prove a negative, significantly expanding the universe of those who avoid prosecution after using lethal force, even if they did so recklessly or unnecessarily. As the Law Center’s brief argued, the amendment plainly violates the Florida constitution’s separation-of-powers provisions. The constitution allows the legislature to make substantive law, while specifically reserving to the judiciary the ability to make procedural rules for the courts. Because the legislature’s burden-shifting amendment usurped the core judicial function of setting court procedures, the amendment was unconstitutional and must be invalidated.