Sen. Rob Bradley stepped forward on Wednesday and sponsored the Senate companion bill to a proposal by Rep. Dennis Baxley, father of the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law.
Bradley – an Orange Park Republican and former state prosecutor – lent his name to Baxley’s push to boost the legal standing of defendants who claim they acted in self-defense while using or threatening to use deadly force in a dispute.
The identical proposals – HB 169 in the House and SB 344 in the upper chamber – shift the legal burden of proof away from the person employing a self-defense claim in court — as current law provides — onto “the party seeking to overcome the immunity from criminal prosecution,” according to the bill’s language.
In other words, should the measure become law, courts would presume anyone who claims to have shot or threatened to shoot another out of self-defense did so properly. The state — or those on the receiving end of such force or threats thereof — would face significant legal barriers in overturning that presumption.
The legislation provides that the state will bear the burden of proof against a self-defense claimant in a pre-trial evidentiary hearing to determine the legitimacy of such a claim. According to the bill, that’s in keeping with what the Legislature intended all along with its controversial approach to claims of self-defense.
“The Legislature has never intended that a person who acts in defense of self, others, or property be denied immunity and subjected to trial when that person would be entitled to acquittal at trial,” reads the bill’s text. “The amendments… made by this act are intended to correct misinterpretations of legislative intent made by the courts and shall apply retroactively to proceedings pending at the time this act becomes a law.”
The proposal also provides that defendants successfully claiming self-defense are entitled to an award of court costs and attorney fees from the state.
The bill could have been a boon to Marissa Alexander, whose 2012 self-defense case garnered national attention.
Alexander was convicted and served jail time for aggravated assault with a firearm when she fired a “warning shot” into a wall, intentionally missing her allegedly abusive husband despite her claim of self-defense. Her conviction was eventually overturned.
HB 169’s provisions relating to threats of deadly force would presumably have inoculated Alexander against prosecution.
Bradley sits on the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, which will likely take up the bill during 2016 legislative session.