Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law and Self Defense
Florida is one of several states that has “Stand Your Ground” laws. In the weeks and months following Martin’s death there was much talk about the law that was enacted in Florida in 2005.
Section 776.012 of the Florida Statutes allows a person to use deadly force if he or she has a reasonable belief that they or another person are in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. Deadly force can also be used to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. ‘Stand your ground’ is not a defense; rather an application must be made to a court that the person was justified in the use of such deadly force. If the court accepts the defendant’s argument, that person is immune from prosecution. Rather than being a defense to murder, the murder is deemed never to have been committed.
There was great deal of discussion about the appropriateness of this law in the days and weeks after Martin died. When the governor appointed Angela Corey as special prosecutor, he also called for an examination of the law. But in the end, the Stand Your Ground law was never raised in Zimmerman’s case. On April 30, 2013, his attorneys formally waived the right to a hearing.
Zimmerman, who never denied he shot and killed Martin, is relying on self defense.
Appellate courts in Florida have held the burden of proof in self defense cases is low. Zimmerman is raising the defense of self defense; saying that Martin attacked him and he had to use deadly force to prevent death or great bodily harm.
In order to convict Zimmerman of murder or even manslaughter, the jury must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt Zimmerman was not acting in self defense at the time he shot Martin. If there is any doubt at all, Zimmerman must be acquitted.
Zimmerman’s Chances of Acquittal
If anyone thought that it was possible to predict what a jury will do, that should have ended after Casey Anthony was acquitted of all charges relating to the death of her daughter, Caylee. We can never determine what a jury will do in advance of the verdict.
Nevertheless, despite inconsistencies in both Zimmerman’s account of events and other evidence such as his and Martin’s mothers both testifying the screams heard on a cellphone tape was of their sons, the defendant is in a pretty good position going into his defense.
As Mark O’Mara, one of Zimmerman’s lawyers, pointed out in his motion to dismiss the charge, a requirement of second-degree murder is that the defendant acted out of “ill will or spite.” The person who commits the act must act with depravity. There was no evidence of that. More importantly, Zimmerman did have injuries to his head. There was no evidence of how these injuries were obtained other than they were inflicted by Martin during a fight.
Although the jury could convict Zimmerman of manslaughter, that charge involves negligence. There is no evidence of negligence; Zimmerman admitted he intentionally shot Martin. It is unlikely the jury will convict him of the lesser offense.
When we couple the injuries Zimmerman suffered with the extremely low standard of proof for self defense; that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt Zimmerman was not acting in self defense when he shot Martin, Zimmerman is in a pretty good position as his defense begins.
ABC News. Timeline of the George Zimmerman Murder Trial. (2013). Accessed July 8, 2013.
ABC News. George Zimmerman Judge Rejects Motion to Dismiss the Case. (2013). Accessed July 8, 2013.
Akron Beacon Journal. Florida Statutes on Second Degree Murder and Manslaughter. (2012). Accessed July 8, 2013.
Florida Stand Your Ground. Stand Your Ground. (2012). Accessed July 8, 2013.
Editorial Note: This article originally stated that Mr. Zimmerman was on duty as a neighborhood watchman when he saw Mr. Martin. Although Zimmerman was a neighborhood watchman, he was not on duty at the time of the encounter.
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