Elected on a platform of wanting to reform much of Hillsborough County’s current system of justice,State Attorney Andrew Warren is voicing his strong opposition to a measure pending in the Florida Legislature that would shift the burden of proof in ‘Stand Your Ground’ self-defense cases.
The bill, sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley (SB 128), would shift the burden of proof to prosecutors during evidentiary hearings in self-defense cases. It stems from a Florida Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that said defendants have the burden of proof to show they should be shielded from prosecution under the “stand your ground” law.
“Proponents of changing the law claim it restores the fundamental principal of justice that a citizen is innocent until proven guilty. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Warren writes in an op-ed published in Friday’s Tampa Bay Times. Our Constitution guarantees the innocence of the accused until every element of the crime has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. As the state attorney for Hillsborough County, I wholeheartedly embrace our extremely high burden of proof to obtain a conviction. The proposed changes, however, create an unnecessary and technical legal hurdle in the law to force the state to disprove a defense — which would often require proving a negative — beyond a reasonable doubt, upending the constitutional standard and centuries-old common law.”
Warren also says passage of the bill would be extremely costly to Hillsborough taxpayers, writing that if it were implemented, “we will need more judges, more courtrooms, more prosecutors and more law enforcement officers. In Hillsborough County, this would impact more than 5,000 cases per year. If only half of those cases involve a claim of “stand your ground” immunity, the time and resources in my office alone amount to nearly $3 million annually.”
The 40-year-old Warren is a former federal prosecutor who won in a stunning upset victory over 16-year GOP incumbent State Attorney Mark Ober in November. He was one of a wave of reform-minded candidates who won prosecutorial races in major jurisdictions across the country, including Aramis Ayala in Orange County and Melissa Nelson in Jacksonville.
Bradley’sproposal passed the Senate during the 2016 session but failed to get to the House floor. It’s being sponsored in the House this spring by Duval County Republican Jason Fischer and Palatka Republican Bobby Payne.