Saturday, April 21, 2012

George Zimmerman Case: Stand-Your-Ground vs. Self-Defense

Media pundits covering the George Zimmerman shooting of Trayvon Martin usually mention Florida's stand-your-ground law and the unlikelihood (their opinion) that Zimmerman will be able to use it as an affirmative defense.

This law is puzzling: Why not just claim self-defense? IANAL, but from what I've been able to glean, in Florida's version, the stand-your-ground law expands self-defense and allows for a pretrial hearing. If a judge finds the defendant legally stood their ground, even with deadly force, they are immune, not only from criminal prosecution, but civil as well. Case closed. Whereas, even if Zimmerman is found not guilty or the jury believes he acted in self-defense, the Martin family still could come back and sue Zimmerman for the wrongful death of Trayvon. Regarding the stand-your-ground law, the statue for Florida reads (highlighting mine), in part:

776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.

776.041 Use of force by aggressor. —The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:

(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or

(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

So, to my layman thoughts, even if George initially followed Martin and even if that alone could be seen as provocation, Zimmerman could claim stand-your-ground if: It can be shown that George then turned and walked back toward the car (perhaps through the 911 tape) and was attacked by Martin.

Zimmerman had a bail hearing last Friday. The media made a big deal about the bond ($150K) and Zimmerman's apology (risky, but IMHO, brilliant). What was even more significant was the apparent admissions by the prosecution that they didn’t have evidence either to answer who started the fight or that contradicts Zimmerman's claim that he was walking back to the car when attacked. Certainly their response brings into question the 2nd degree murder charge. But, at this point it, looks unlikely that Zimmerman will be released based on the statute and without a trial, simply because of the judicial fear of what would happen in the streets after such a ruling.

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