December 19, 2018
Florida Supreme Court won’t allow Miami’s top prosecutor to chime in on self-defense law
 
 
By David Ovalle
 

Miami-Dade’s top prosecutor wanted the Florida Supreme Court to know her office believes the state’s controversial self-defense law is unconstitutional.

Justices aren’t allowing it.

The Florida Supreme Court on Monday declined to allow Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle to introduce her position in the ongoing legal fight over the state’s Stand Your Ground law. 

She was the first state attorney to break with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office is defending the broadened “Stand Your Ground” law passed by the Florida Legislature last year. 

Under the previous incarnation of the law, a defendant had to prove to a judge that he or she was acting in self-defense in using deadly, or potentially deadly, force. Now, prosecutors have the legal burden of disproving a defendant’s claim of self-defense in a hearing before any jury trial takes place. Prosecutors must prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that someone was not acting in self-defense.

At the time of the law change in 2017, prosecutors and many police departments opposed the measure. It passed anyway. The Florida Supreme Court is now weighing a host of legal issues surrounding the law, chiefly whether it applies to cases filed before the statute went into effect.

Fernandez Rundle asked the Supreme Court if she could officially adopt the position of Miami’s League of Prosecutors, an organization of current and former local prosecutors formed to educate the public about criminal justice issues, mentor assistant state attorneys and promote “judicial excellence.”

In a friend-of-the-court brief, the league said the new law violated the separation of powers between the Legislature and elected prosecutors. “The Legislature cannot waive the state’s right to a jury trial in a criminal case,” the league wrote.

But Bondi’s office objected to Fernandez Rundle’s effort, calling it unlawful, “highly unusual — and apparently unprecedented.”

“The Attorney General opposes a request to have the State speak with more than one voice in a state appellate court,” Bondi’s office wrote in a filing.

The Florida Supreme Court allowed the League of Prosecutors to chime in. But in an order released Monday, justices denied Fernandez Rundle’s move to adopt the league’s position. 

The justices did not explain why, or issue a written opinion.

“We respect the order of the Florida Supreme Court in this matter,” Fernandez Rundle’s office said in a statement Monday. “For us it was important to formally present our perspective and position as we are in the courtroom every day dealing with Stand Your Ground cases. Though we were denied being able to be a party in this matter before the court, we are gratified to know that various other amicus briefs have been accepted that share our position, one of these being the League of Prosecutors.”