July 20, 2015: Burden of Proof

On July 9, 2015 the Florida Supreme Court decided (No. SC13-2312) the burden of proof is on the defendant at a pretrial hearing involving a motion for immunity when claiming “Stand Your Ground”. The legislation for the law doesn’t specify who has the burden of proof.

Last year the Florida Legislature sought to tweak Stand Your Ground to put the burden on the prosecutor. That bill did not make it through the legislative session. The Florida Supreme Court has decided, in absence of specific language in the law, that the burden of proof is on the defendant. Apparently this is how the proceedings have been handled to this point in time.

The majority logic: because shifting that burden could require the prosecutors to prove their case twice. Seems contrary to innocent until proven guilty. This decision assumes you are guilty until you can prove that you are justified in claiming self-defense. This is contrary to the principle that the necessity of proof always lies with the person who lays charges. The prosecution is laying charges and the defendant is filing a motion that they believe they are justified in seeking immunity based on stand your ground law.

The National Rifle Association and Florida Carry, Inc. filed amicus curiae briefs (friend of the court) in support of the petitioner, Jared Bretherick (the defendant in the trial court). The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association filed amicus curiae on behalf of the State of Florida.

The Court notes the defendant bears the burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence to demonstrate entitlement to Stand Your Ground (SYG) immunity at the pretrial evidentiary hearing. The basis of the decision goes back to a 2008 decision in Peterson v. State involving the procedure of the pretrial evidentiary hearing. The petitioner sought to have the State disprove entitlement to SYG immunity beyond a reasonable doubt at the pretrial evidentiary hearing.

I’m not going into the events of the case, you can read the Florida Supreme Court decision if you are curious, but I will say I think he was OK until passengers got out of the car. Keep in mind I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice.

I do want to expound on the two levels of burden that are expressed in the decision and are general principles in American jurisprudence. Usually related to civil cases is the Preponderance of Evidence. It is considered a lower burden than beyond a reasonable doubt.

Preponderance of Evidence means that more than 50% of the evidence must support your cause. But even this low standard is interpreted by a judge who may not see your arguments and evidence in the same way you and your attorney do.

Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest standard. The evidence has to be of such convincing character that there is no other explanation. Again a judge is making the determination.

You can see that if a prosecutor brings charges against a defendant, they will have to work harder to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” than the defendant proving the preponderance of evidence.

That’s why the prosecutors don’t want to have to prepare for this at the pretrial and the Florida Supreme Court has sided with the prosecutors. If this is not what Senator David Simmons intended, then he and the rest of the Legislature need to revive last years legislation next year and add language that solidifies their intent.

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