The Republican majorities in both the House and Senate have easily voted this spring to shift the burden of proof to prosecutors in pretrial hearings for “Stand Your Ground” cases — but now resolving the significant procedural difference between their two proposals isn’t going to happen so effortlessly.
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told reporters Thursday that he wants to hold the line and stick with the Senate’s more stringent version of SB 128, which would require prosecutors to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” — before trial — why a criminal defendant cannot claim immunity from prosecution in use-of-force cases.
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That’s the highest standard of proof and what prosecutors have to demonstrate at the trial itself.
An attorney by trade, Negron said he, personally, doesn’t want to accept the compromise language the House approved Wednesday that sets the standard one step lower, to “clear and convincing evidence.”
Both chambers have to pass identical bills in order to enact a law and send it to the governor for his signature. Lawmakers still have four weeks left in session to hash out their differences, but Negron is reluctant to budge from the Senate’s position.
“I would rather have ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ ” Negron said. “As I’ve said from the beginning, if the government wants to convict you of a serious crime and send you to prison, they should have the burden to prove that at every stage of the proceeding beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.”
He added: “It’s the highest legal standard in the world. It’s served us well, and in order for the government to prevail in the underlying criminal case [at trial], they’re going to have to prove beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.”
The House’s version of the bill was amended in committee to call for the “clear and convincing evidence” standard — which the Senate itself OK’d last year, including with support from Negron. (In earlier committee hearings for the 2016 bill, Negron had also twice supported the original version that had “beyond a reasonable doubt.”)
Bill sponsor Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, previously told the Herald/Times that a compromise on the Senate language was necessary last year to win chamber approval — but that wasn’t the case this year.
But the House — which failed to pass the “Stand Your Ground” change out of even one committee last year — decided to compromise on its language this year after hearing from members and “other groups throughout the state,” said Rep. Bobby Payne, a Palatka Republican who sponsored this year’s House bill.
“We think it was really a fair place to land,” Payne told reporters. “We need to consider the opportunity to encourage victims to come forward in those particular situations.”
Payne said he believed the House bill could still have had a good chance at passing without the reduced standard, which he called “reasonable and fair.”
Negron noted that the Senate — on a voice vote — has already rejected the “clear and convincing evidence” language this session. Fort Lauderdale Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston attempted an amendment on the floor that the chamber’s Republican majority rejected.