One of the most interesting bills to be passed into law this legislative term is Montana’s new gun and self defense law House Bill 228. Although HB 228 is notable for its provisions regarding firearms, it is also notable for the way in which it changed the burden of proof for the affirmative defense of justifiable use of force–a defense often raised in assault and homicide cases. Prior to the the passage of this bill, a criminal defendant that claimed self defense had the burden at trial to produce sufficient evidence to raise a reasonable doubt of his guilt based on his or her justifiable use of force defense. However, HB 228 added the following provision:
Justifiable use of force — burden of proof. In a criminal trial, when the defendant has offered evidence of justifiable use of force, the state has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s actions were not justified.
In other words, the prosecution now has the burden, once self defense is raised by the defendant, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s use of force was not justified–the way it should be.