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Senate advancing bill to change 'stand your ground' law despite death of similar House bill


TALLAHASSEE, Florida — A bill that would force prosecutors to prove self-defense wasn't a factor before bringing someone using a "stand your ground" defense to trial advanced in the Senate on Wednesday despite a similar House bill being killed the day before.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal Justice approved the bill on a 5-1 vote. But its future is in doubt because a companion House bill died the day before on a tie vote.

Sen. Rob Bradley said he's not giving up on his bill until the 2016 session ends in March, though he couldn't explain how it could be revived in the House.

"Everything is in play until" the session ends, said Bradley, R-Orange Park. "I wouldn't describe anything as being the end of the road."

People using a stand your ground defense after being charged with killing or assaulting another person can request a pretrial immunity hearing. The bill was prompted by a Florida Supreme Court ruling in May that said the burden of proof at immunity hearings is on the charged individual.

The bill (SB 344) shifts that burden to prosecutors. Opponents have concerns it might make it more difficult to convict people who claim self-defense.

"It's a massive expansion of stand your ground with an unprecedented burden shift," said Democratic Sen. Darren Soto of Kissimmee, the only committee member to oppose it. "It's going well beyond what the original stand your ground bill was intended for."

The association that represents Florida prosecutors opposes the bill.

Florida's law came under scrutiny after neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman fatally shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in the case.

Bradley said that if prosecutors have enough evidence to convince a jury that self-defense wasn't a factor in a case, they have enough evidence to convince a judge of the same.

"If I thought for a second that an otherwise guilty individual would go free as a result of this bill, I would never file it. That's not going to happen," Bradley said.

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