New Stand-Your-Ground Law at Issue in Tampa Murder Trial

The Florida legislature recently passed an expanded version of Florida Statute section 776.032, or as it’s more commonly known, the Florida stand-your-ground law. The revised law shifts the burden of proof from the defendant, asserting the stand-your-ground defense, to the prosecution. Specifically, when a defendant raises a stand-your-ground defense, the prosecution is required to rebut the defendant’s prima facie immunity claim by clear and convincing evidence. Traditionally, the defendant is required to prove the elements of the affirmative defense as opposed to merely stating a prima facie claim.

This new law went into effect in June, so a Tampa murder trial related to the death of a former University of South Florida football player is one of the first to apply the new law.

The defendant was charged with murder after a fight broke out in the early morning hours outside a nightclub in Ybor City. He is accused of stabbing an ex-USF player to death with a knife during the altercation. He made his prima facie case for self-defense primarily based on the fact that the ex-USF player was physically larger than him. In fact, the ex-USF player was eight inches taller and 150 pounds heavier than the defendant.

Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law provides that a person is under no duty to retreat prior to using deadly force, assuming the person is fearful of death or grievous bodily harm when faced with a violent confrontation. This law is broader than the common law understanding of self-defense, in which a person under attack has a duty to retreat. The exception to this rule is known as the “castle doctrine,” under which a person under attack in his or her own home has no duty to retreat.

After the defendant asserted the stand-your-ground defense, the prosecution presented evidence in a pre-trial hearing to meet the clear and convincing standard of proof to rebut the immunity defense. The prosecution put on video evidence of the alleged stabbing, in addition to testimony. Following two days of presenting evidence, the judge ruled that the prosecution had met its burden, and the case will now move to trial.

Although the Tampa court applied the revised stand-your-ground law, not all Florida courts have done the same. In July, a Miami court ruled that the legislature’s revision to the burden of proof was a violation of the separation of powers provision of the Florida constitution. The ruling relied on the principle that the legislature is responsible for making substantive laws, but procedural laws are the province of the judiciary. This decision, although widely reported, is only a circuit court ruling and therefore does not have binding authority over the murder trial pending in Tampa.

There is no time to waste if you have been charged with a violent crime in Florida. The sooner you get the help of an experienced Tampa violent crime lawyer, the better your chances of avoiding a conviction or, if convicted, minimizing the penalty. If you are simply being investigated and haven’t yet been charged, getting experienced help is your best chance to avoid having charges filed. Call Will Hanlon at Hanlon Law at 813-228-7095 as soon as possible if you’ve been arrested or questioned by law enforcement.