The National Rifle Association is firing back at a judge over a recent ruling that Florida’s new “Stand Your Ground” burden of proof is unconstitutional.

Earlier this week, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch said Florida lawmakers overstepped their boundaries in shifting the burden of proof in “Stand Your Ground” cases, contending the responsibility to shift the burden of proof actually rests with the Florida Supreme Court rather than state legislators. 

“As a matter of constitutional separation of powers, that procedure cannot be legislatively modified,” Hirsch wrote in a 14-page order.

Speaking exclusively with Sunshine State News, former NRA president and current Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer said Hirsch had crossed the line of a simple legal ruling into political territory — all on his own accord.

“This is a whole new level of judicial activism,” Hammer told SSN. “Judge Hirsch made a unilateral decision to attack the constitutional authority of the Legislature to pass laws even though neither of the attorneys in the case asked him to rule on such an issue.”
 
In May, Florida lawmakers voted to pass the a bill shifting the burden of proof in “Stand Your Ground” cases after years of attempts to muscle the legislation through the halls of the Florida Capitol. 
 
The new defendant-friendly law would give defendants more protection from prosecution in “Stand Your Ground” cases by requiring prosecutors to prove whether a defendant is entitled to immunity at a pretrial hearing in order to disprove a claim of self-defense immunity. 
 
That means the legislation would flip the responsibility onto the prosecutor to prove why a defendant shouldn’t be allowed to use the Stand Your Ground defense in court.
 
Gov. Rick Scott hopped on board with the bill, swiftly signing it into law last month.
 
Hirsch’s decision drew the ire of the NRA and Republicans who worked to push and pass the legislation this year.
 
To Hammer, Hirsch is nothing more than an opponent of the bill who simply wanted to make his opinions known.
 
“This is just an activist judge who disagreed with the law so he decided to create issues that were not raised by either party,” she said.  

The debate over the burden of proof, Hammer said, is “nonexistent.” 

“Frankly, I don’t ever remember seeing a trial judge blatantly create issues and controversy, in a case where none exists.” 

Yet opponents of the measure said they were “absolutely heartbroken” to discover Scott planned to sign the bill into law last month.

“This expansion would place an enormous burden on our state’s hardworking prosecutors, and further create a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ culture that would threaten the lives of people in our state, especially those in marginalized communities,” said Michelle Gajda, volunteer chapter leader of the Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.

The rest of the state does not need to comply with Hirsch’s ruling, but an appeal of his decision is widely anticipated.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Pam Bondi said Bondi’s office would appeal Hirsch’s decision and the NRA is expected to follow suit. 
 
“Bottom line, I know of no basis for a judge to rule on the constitutionality of a law that neither the defense nor the prosecution is challenging,” Hammer said.

 

 

Reach reporter Allison Nielsen by email at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.

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