State appeals court blocks stand-your-ground defense in assault case

Florida First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Photo by Michael Rivera, Wikimedia Commons

A state appeals court has upheld a battery conviction involving a firearm notwithstanding the accused’s stand-your-ground defense, in a case involving apparent confusion about a 2017 state law switching the burden of proof in these cases from the accused to prosecutors.

The Legislature intended that law to benefit people claiming they resorted to firearms in self-defense.

However, in the case of Assan Deandre Rogers, sentenced to 15 years for aggravated battery in a shooting in Walton County, the judge and defense attorney both proceeded under the assumption an accused must present at least some initial evidence of self-defense.

For that reason, “he cannot now be heard to complain that the procedure employed by the trial court departed from the essential requirements of law,” the court said.

Florida’s stand-your-ground statute requires defendants to raise a “prima facie” case that they acted in self defense, Judge Lori Rowe wrote for a three-judge panel. Generally, that Legal Latin term means presenting basic facts supporting your argument.

Florida’s intermediate appeals courts have split about what that requirement means. The 2nd DCA ruled in 2018 that the statute doesn’t require accused people to present evidence supporting a stand-your-ground defense before the prosecution attempts to knock it down.

But the 4th DCA ruled that same year “that a party seeking immunity must show the elements for justifiable use of force are met, which ordinarily requires the defendant to testify or otherwise present or point to evidence from which the elements for justifiable use of force can be inferred.”

Here’s what happened during Rogers’ trial, according to Monday’s ruling:

“At the hearing on the motion, the trial court asked Rogers’ counsel, ‘You got to put on your testimony to flip it, right?’ Counsel responded, ‘Yes, sir’ and then presented testimony in support of Rogers’ immunity claim. Rogers and his fiancée both testified. After hearing the evidence presented by Rogers, the trial court ruled that Rogers had not met ‘the evidentiary standard to flip the burden to the State.’ The court denied the immunity motion.”

Rowe is among nine candidates recommended by a search commission to Gov. Ron DeSantis for appointment to two vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court.