Monday, July 15, 2013

Stand Your Ground

Although George Zimmerman didn't invoke the notorious Stand Your Ground law, it seems it came tangentially into play in a Florida courtroom.  The lawyers for Zimmerman were content with the standard self-defense plea, which they used successfully to gain his acquittal, despite the judge allowing the jury to consider a lesser charge of manslaughter.  The defendant was being tried for second-degree murder.

The case does call into question the degree to which Stand Your Ground laws are being interpreted and the seemingly loose nature of self-defense these days.  Where before the threat had to occur on your property, now it seems it is enough to feel threatened anywhere.  Florida has spawned similar laws in more than 20 states, which allows a person to shoot another as long as he "reasonably" thinks he is in danger, which is pretty much what Zimmerman's defense argued.

The Tampa Bay Times identified over 200 cases in Florida alone where the Stand Your Ground law was invoked, with some very appalling results.  Not surprisingly, blacks are more likely to be victims than whites. Yet, it seems what caused the NRA and other conservative groups to rally around the Zimmerman case was protection of this gun law rather than the racially-charged aspects of the law.  The NRA has been very active in promoting this law throughout the country.

Zimmerman's defense team similarly relied on conservative pundits like Sean Hannity and conservative groups to elicit contributions to cover defense costs.  Yet, Zimmerman's lawyers are threatening law suits of their own if the Martin family seeks a civil suit against their client.  The GZ Defense Fund has even filed for the return of Zimmerman's handgun now that he is a marked man.

President Obama and others have called for calm in the wake of the acquittal, but one can only imagine the anguish Trayvon Martin's family must be feeling.  Yet, this is just one of many sad stories since the Stand Your Ground law was enacted in 2005.


  1. The problem in this case, at least in my opinion, is that the evidence was so murky. But as someone recently remarked, "a criminal trial is not a morality play." That is essentially how criminal trials are portrayed by the media. There is one very simple reason for this: the media can make a ton of money with a story like this but not if the story gets bogged down with the standard of proof.

    One of my favorite lame-brained post-trial comments was to the effect that Zimmerman was a coward for not testifying. As I told my students today, one of their most precious rights is protected by the Fifth Amendment. That is their right not to answer questions that someone wants them to answer.

  2. Murky both ways, which is why I think manslaughter would have been the appropriate call in this case, because there is no doubt Zimmerman shot and killed Martin.

  3. But manslaughter requires more than a corpse to prove. The two definitions that aguably apply in this case are: (1) Committing an intentional act that was neither excusable, nor justified that resulted in the death of another person, and (2) Engaging in “Culpably Negligent” conduct that resulted in the death of another person.

    If I'm not mistaken, a person convicted of manslaughter in Florida can be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison. One thing jurors often want to know before they render their verdict is how much time the defendant will get if convicted. Typically the trial court judge determines that, and so the jurors are reminded that all they are doing is deciding guilt or innocence. It can be a very tough call, which it appears to have been in this case.

  4. Granted, it is hard to say without following the proceedings closely. One would like to assume the jury weighed all the options. At face value, Zimmerman ignored the police warning and pursued Martin, essentially provoking the confrontation.

    In reading the Tampa Bay Times review of Stand Your Ground cases it is really disturbing how many persons have walked away from killings as a result of this law. Even though the Zimmerman defense team didn't invoke the law specifically, they appeared to argue self-defense along pretty much the same lines, greatly expanding on the idea of being "threatened."

  5. Nothing I have seen suggests that the jury didn't weigh all the options. Having served on a jury, and knowing firsthand how difficult it can be to reach agreement, I am willing to give the six jurors in this case the benefit of the doubt.

  6. I've come across numerous online debates about this trial and find that right wingers are happy with the result. They say it shows that the jury is always correct. But then I counter with, well, why didn't you feel that way when the OJ trial took place or when Casey Anthony was freed? When I ask, the right wingers clam up.


    1. I don't consider myself a right-winger, but I am more or less comfortable with the verdict, although "comfortable" is not exactly the word I would use.

  7. I think at issue for most conservatives is the Stand Your Ground law itself. This is a law the NRA has been pushing it in a great number of states. Personally, I think it is way too open-ended and needs to be either sharpened or dropped.