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Florida Lawmakers To Vote On Expanding 'Stand Your Ground' Law


In Florida, lawmakers are expected to vote today on a bill that would expand protections for people acting in self-defense, even when they use deadly force. Let's remember Florida's Stand Your Ground law has been stirring controversy for some time, and this vote is reopening the debate. Here's NPR's Greg Allen.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Florida's Stand Your Ground law first became national news in 2012.


GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something.

ALLEN: Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman told authorities he was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager. The Stand Your Ground law was part of the instructions to the jury, and Zimmerman was acquitted. Stand Your Ground also allows defendants who acted in self-defense to claim immunity from prosecution. Up to now, at preliminary immunity hearings, it's been up to defendants to prove that's the case. State Senator Rob Bradley says his bill would shift that burden of proof to the government.


ROB BRADLEY: If this bill were to become law, at the immunity hearing, it's the government's job to present evidence to a judge that a crime was committed. A crime is not committed if someone exercises the right of self-defense.

ALLEN: The bill is opposed by Democrats and the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association. It's backed by the NRA and Republican leaders who control Florida's legislature. At hearings, one of those speaking out was Lucia McBath. She's the mother of 17-year-old Jordan Davis who was shot and killed four years ago in a dispute over loud music. The first jury that heard the case was unable to reach a verdict after receiving instructions on Stand Your Ground. A second trial resulted in a conviction. McBath opposes the bill.


LUCIA MCBATH: We should not make it harder for family members to achieve the justice that they deserve by making gun crimes harder to prosecute.

ALLEN: Prosecutors say the bill would create an unreasonable standard not used anywhere else in the country. It would force the government to prove someone was not acting in self-defense. Prosecutors predict the number of immunity hearings and gun-related crimes, domestic violence and assault cases would skyrocket.

Another person associated with a high-profile case, Marissa Alexander, supports expanding the Stand Your Ground protections. She unsuccessfully invoked Stand Your Ground and was convicted for aggravated assault in 2012 after firing a gun near her estranged husband.


MARISSA ALEXANDER: So for me, one shot and a 12-minute verdict got me 20 years in my own home, concealed weapon license, white-collar worker.

ALLEN: Alexander was released from prison after serving three years in a plea deal. Florida's Senate has scheduled a vote on the bill today, after which it moves to the house. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF FULGEANCE'S "G.I.T.E.M.") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.