The Florida legislature on Wednesday took a step toward strengthening the state's "stand your ground" law, the controversial self-defense law that George Zimmerman cited as his reason for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin in 2012.
The state Senate passed a revised version of the 12-year-old law that puts the burden of proof of self-defense in a pretrial hearing on prosecutors, instead of defendants.
If passed into law, defendants would no longer have to present evidence to prove their claim of self-defense. Prosecutors would instead have to prove beyond a reasonable double that the use of force was not justified.
The Senate passed the change in a 23-15 vote, and Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a staunch supporter of gun rights laws, is expected to support the legislation.
"It's right and just to have the government's feet held to the fire throughout a criminal prosecution from arrest to trial," Republican Sen. Rob Bradley, who authored the bill, said during a recent debate. "I consider this to be a conservative bill that is grounded in the constitution."
Though 22 other states have similar laws protecting people who use deadly force in self-defense, Florida would be alone if it forces prosecutors to prove deadly force was not needed.
Alabama, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina are the only states that even mention the "burden of proof" in their laws, but it is placed on defendants.
Bradley said he doesn't believe the bill will help the guilty.
"If I thought for one second that this bill would encourage people to engage in criminal behavior because the bill created some sort of loophole [...] I would have no part of this bill," he said. "If I thought that an otherwise guilty person would go free as a result of this bill, then I would have no part in filing this bill."