A Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge on Monday set off a social media firestorm after ruling that Florida’s “Stand-Your-Ground” (SYG) law is unconstitutional.
One thing he said has raised eyebrows. Judge Milton Hirsch wrote that, “As a matter of constitutional separation of powers, that procedure cannot be legislatively modified.”
He explained that when the SYG law was updated, that should have been “crafted by the Florida Supreme Court.”
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This has left people wondering if Judge Hirsch understands the constitutional separation of powers about which he wrote. But a careful reading of the judge’s decision at least raises some questions about whether he may be correct.
In his ruling, the judge explained, “The version of the doctrine of separation of powers reflected in Florida’s constitution differs in a number of respects from that implied by the Constitution of the United States. One instance of that difference is found in Art. V § 2(a), which provides:
“The supreme court shall adopt rules for the practice and procedure in all courts including the time for seeking appellate review, the administrative supervision of all courts, the transfer to the court having jurisdiction of any proceeding when the jurisdiction of another court has been improvidently invoked, and a requirement that no cause shall be dismissed because of an improper remedy has been sought. The supreme court shall adopt rules to allow the court and the district courts of appeal to submit questions relating to military law to the federal Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces for an advisory opinion. Rules of court may be repealed by general law enacted by two-thirds vote of the membership of each house of the legislature.”
His entire 14-page ruling has been posted online by the Miami Herald, and may be read here. It explains the history of self-defense law in the Sunshine State, referring not only to the “castle doctrine” but another concept, the duty to retreat. In other states, courts have declared that a person who is attacked in any place where he/she has a right to be has no duty to retreat.
The Tampa Bay Tribune reported that the judge ruled “that under Florida’s constitution” the change in the SYG law should have come from the state high court.
Florida has had an SYG law since 2005, the newspaper recalled. It landed in the political spotlight following the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012. But Zimmerman’s defense never actually cited the statute as a defense because it was not a matter of “stand your ground.” Zimmerman wasn’t standing his ground; he had been pinned to it.
As described by the New York Post, the revised law required prosecutors to prove someone was not acting in self-defense with “clear and convincing” evidence. Apparently, prosecutors want the burden of proof to be on the defendant.
Prosecutors reportedly believe that the revised statute makes it too easy for people to get away with a crime by claiming self-defense.
The revised bill was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year.
Judge Hirsch’s ruling came in a case against a woman named Liletha Rutherford. She had been charged with aggravated assault for drawing a gun on two other people during a reported argument.
The SYG law has long been a point of aggravation for anti-self-defense activists, especially when someone uses a firearm for self-defense. Proponents of SYG laws contend that by retreating in a possible life-or-death struggle, the intended victim could literally be attacked from the rear by an aggressor.