In newly filed documents, a South Florida organization of prosecutors criticized the latest version of the state’s controversial stand your ground law, telling the Florida Supreme Court the self-defense law is unconstitutional. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is among the city’s League of Prosecutors asking the high court to strike down the law because it unlawfully forces state’s attorneys to try self-defense cases before a judge instead of a jury, according to the Miami Herald.
Florida lawmakers voted to change the law last year, despite opposition from state prosecutors and some police departments. “There’s nothing specialized or unique about this defense that the common juror cannot understand,” prosecutors argued in brief filed late Friday. Fernandez Rundle also filed her own brief joining the effort, becoming the very first state attorney to break with Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office has vocally supported the amended Stand Your Ground law. The controversial statue, first passed in the state in 2005, removes the duty to retreat for individuals confronted with what they perceive as a threat.
The law has repeatedly been a point of both social and political contention. Over the years, critics have argued that it promotes a “shoot first” mentality and essentially gives killers a “get out of jail free card.” “Stand Your Ground” later made national headlines in 2012 after authorities cited the law as their reason for not arresting neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of unarmed Black teen Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman, 35, was later acquitted by a jury in the killing. There was renewed outrage over the law earlier this year when Black father Markeis McGlockton was gunned down after defending his girlfriend during a dispute over a parking spot. McGlockton, who was seen pushing the shooter to the ground, was also unarmed.
The Pinellas County’s sheriff cited the law in not arresting suspect Michael Drejka, although prosecutors later charged him with second-degree murder. When stand your ground was first passed, it was the defendant’s responsibility to prove that he/she acted in self-defense. However, all that changed last year when the law was broadened and instead required prosecutors to disprove a defendant’s self-defense case at pretrial hearings. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch was one of two judges who opposed the change and argued state lawmakers had overstepped their authority, deeming it unconstitutional.
That didn’t stop lawmakers from passing it anyway. A retired attorney providing pro bono counsel to the League of Prosecutors contended that the passage of the law violates a separation of powers between the Legislature and elected prosecutors, the Miami Herald reported. “The Legislature cannot waive the state’s right to a jury trial in a criminal case,” wrote Penny Brill, the former head of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s legal bureau. On Friday, the office filed paperwork asking permission to appear before the state Supreme Court to join the league’s position. Court documents show Bondi’s office is staunchly opposed to Fernandez Rundle’s move. So far, no other state’s attorneys have dared enter the legal fray.