Florida High Court Asked to Answer Self-Defense Question

A Florida appeals court recently asked the state’s Supreme Court to answer a question that could have big implications for anyone who argues self-defense in a Florida criminal case. The issue concerns who bears the burden of proof in self-defense cases.

Judge's GavelDefendant was charged with felony battery stemming from an incident with his girlfriend in a McDonald’s parking lot. The couple argued about who should drive to their next destination, according to the court. Defendant’s girlfriend said he punched her twice in the face after she refused to get in the car. Defendant, however, said he was the one who wouldn’t get in the vehicle. He said his girlfriend then threatened him with a gun. Defendant said he was shot in the arm in the ensuing scuffle.

At the time of the trial, Florida law put the burden on Defendant to prove self-defense. A trial judge said he didn’t meet that burden. Defendant later appealed the decision. While the appeal was pending, the state legislature updated the self-defense law. Under the amended version, the burden shifts to the prosecution to disprove self-defense once the person charged with the crime makes a facially sufficient self-defense claim. That threw the Second District for a loop.

The court reversed the trial judge’s decision, finding that the amended version of the law should apply to Defendant’s case. It explained that changes to the law that are procedural in nature are retroactive. The court also said that changes to the burden of proof have long been considered procedural by at least some state courts.

“Because his appeal remained pending before us at the time the amendment took effect, the amendment should be applied to [Defendant]’s case,” the court said. “How to now apply it is the only issue left to decide.”

But the Second District also noted that other Florida appeals courts have come down on the other side, finding that the self-defense law isn’t procedural. So it asked the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in. Specifically, the Second District asked the high court to determine whether the self-defense law is “procedural in nature such that the amendment should be applied retroactively to cases that were pending in Florida courts at the time of the amendment’s enactment?”

The court noted that the outcome of that question could make or break Defendant’s case. He may not have testified on his own behalf at trial had the more favorable standard been in effect at the time, the court said.

If you or a loved one has been charged with battery or another violent crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Clearwater criminal defense attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of crimes. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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