Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association of America. Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM.

The Florida Supreme Court Wednesday granted the National Rifle Association Freedom Action Foundation permission to weigh in on a closely watched case involving the retroactive application of a controversial change to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

The case appeared to have caught the attention of the NRA nonprofit because it hinges on which party should shoulder the burden of proof in use-of-force cases, and whether a change in the law in 2017 could retroactively apply to older proceedings.

The NRA group will participate as a third party, filing a friend-of-the-court or amicus brief in support of neither party.

“In its brief, the Freedom Action Foundation will argue that Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law is in keeping with a longstanding tradition in this state and nation of protecting the fundamental right of self-defense,” the group wrote in its motion for leave to file an amicus brief. “Because it uses traditional legislative devices to effectuate substantive rights, the provision at issue in this writ proceeding was well within the Legislature’s constitutional authority.”

The case involves defendant Tashara Love, who shot Thomas Lane after an altercation outside a Miami nightclub in November 2015. Love was charged with second-degree murder with a firearm. She claimed immunity from prosecution, arguing she shot Lane to stop him from hitting her daughter.

The case reached the Florida Supreme Court after a conflict at the state appellate level over whether Love could benefit from the change to the ”Stand Your Ground” law.

The law initially put the onus on defendants to prove, via a pretrial hearing, that they were justified in using force and therefore qualify for immunity. But on June 9, 2017, before Love’s hearing, the Florida Legislature added a subsection to the statute, shifting the burden of proof from the defendant to the prosecutor.

At trial, the lower court relied on the earlier version of the statute, because Love had shot Thomas before the amendment came into effect.

Love appealed after the trial court found she did not prove entitlement to immunity, arguing that the amendment should apply retroactively. The state disagreed, further arguing that the amendment was unconstitutional and violated the separation of powers.

On May 11, the Florida Supreme Court ruled against Love on the basis that the June 2017 legislation “operated prospectively and, thus, is inapplicable to Love’s case.”

Davis Cooper of Cooper & Kirk in Washington, D.C., filed the motion Tuesday for the NRA foundation. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment by deadline.

“Should the court rule on the constitutionality of Section 776.032(4), an issue addressed by both courts below, the Freedom Action Foundation can assist this court by responding to criticisms of the Stand Your Ground Law that have been advanced by some courts,” the filing reads.

The NRA-FAF’s mission statement is “to educate Americans with respect to their individual rights as citizens, with particular emphasis on the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” according to its profile on GuideStar.

Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez. Courtesy photo.

As for Love, her attorney is gearing to file a brief, outlining her position.

“With respect to the participation of amicus curiae, the Florida Supreme Court ultimately decides which groups it will hear from, and has issued orders approving the filing of briefs from several different organizations,” her attorney, Miami Public Defender Carlos Martinez, said.

Counsel to the respondent, Tallahassee Solicitor General Amit Agarwal and Chief Deputy Solicitor General Edward M. Wenger, declined to comment, citing a policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation.

 

 

 

Read the motion: