Former Judge warns of dire consequences of Stand Your Ground changes

Governor expected to approve the changes
Posted at 5:30 PM, May 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-09 23:27:42-04

How people accused of violent crime defend themselves in court could change drastically, after representatives voted to change Florida's self-defense law.

Now a former judge is warning of dire consequences, and an easier path for someone trying to get away with murder.

"This is what we call downstream consequences. The social policy set by this is really horrible," says Jeff Swartz, a professor at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Riverview.

Right now it's up to an accused defendant to prove they should be immune from a jury trial, but legislators, like Rep. Jeff Brandes of Pinellas County (R) are aiming to change what's known as the "burden of proof."

"The state should always have the burden of proof in these types of situations," Rep. Brandes told ABC Action News earlier this year, in support of changing the Stand Your Ground law. "The state should always have to prove that you acted outside the law."

But Swartz, who is a former County Judge in Florida, and serves as a legal expert for ABC Action News, is warning that the change means it will be up to the state to prove guilt to a judge before the trial ever even happens.

That could mean longer legal processes, and likely means a lot fewer cases will make it to trial.

"The idea that anybody charged with a violent felony -- assault, battery, attempted murder, murder -- can make the state prove him guilty, twice! As opposed to him having to prove he's entitled to the immunity and a jury decide if he's being truthful or not," is a bad idea, says Swartz.

And Swartz warns that in a system where witnesses are essential to get a jury trial, violent crime could become a lot more common.

"I think this will increase incidents of any kind of violence where they believe they can get away with it because there's nobody watching," explains Swartz. 

The changes would take effect as soon as Governor Rick Scott signs it into law.

RELATED: Anti-domestic violence advocates warn against Stand Your Ground law change

Meanwhile, a lot could be decided by the first case to go through process under new law and that could be the local case of Curtis Reeves.

A judge has already rejected the former Tampa Police officer's request for immunity under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, but under the new law, he might be allowed to request another hearing on the matter, since the standards have changed.

"If I had to place a name on this I think this is the Curtis Reeves Bill," says Swartz to ABC Action News. "I think people saw what happened to Curtis Reeves. They sided with him. Some people were pushing for him. I think some of law enforcement was on his side, I think the NRA was on his side. And I think they wanted to create a circumstance in which someone like Curtis Reeves now gets a judge to maybe determine he doesn't have to stand trial in front of a jury where he believes he would most probably would be found guilty."