A Miami appeals court says Florida's broadened self-defense law is constitutional but that it does not apply to cases that happened before the law went into effect.
The Third District Court of Appeal ruling comes one week after a sister court in Tampa ruled the law was indeed "retroactive" — which means the Florida Supreme Court will ultimately decide which court is right.
Last year, Florida lawmakers changed the state's already controversial Stand Your Ground law, forcing prosecutors to shoulder the burden of disproving a defendant's claim of self-defense in a hearing before any trial takes place.
Two Miami-Dade trial judges ruled that under the state's Constitution, only the Florida Supreme Court could make that change. Friday's ruling by the Third DCA rejected those arguments, but said the law only applies to cases pending when it went into effect on June 9, 2017.
The Third DCA ruled in the case of Tashara Love, who is charged with attempted murder in the shooting of a man outside a Miami strip club in 2015.
First passed in 2005, Florida's self-defense law has been criticized for fostering a shoot-first mentality — and giving killers a pass at justice. The law eliminated a citizen's duty to retreat before using deadly force to counter an apparent threat.
More problematic for prosecutors, the law made it easier for judges, before the case ever gets to a jury, to dismiss criminal charges if they deem someone acted in self-defense. The Florida Supreme Court later ruled that defendants, in asking for immunity from criminal prosecution, must be the ones to prove they were acting in self-defense.
But lawmakers, pushed by the politically powerful National Rifle Association, passed a law in 2017 that mandated that prosecutors should shoulder the burden of disproving a defendant's self-defense claim. State attorneys contended that it essentially forces them unfairly to try the case twice, making it easier for criminals to skate on violent charges. Under the law, prosecutors must prove by "clear and convincing" evidence that a defendant was not acting in self-defense.