Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Zimmerman v Martin – Self-Defense?

I overheard someone stating that the George Zimmerman would never have been charged with a crime if the threat of civil unrest hadn't forced prosecutors to file charges.  This person thought that Zimmerman's claim of self-defense was so obvious that a judicial  review was unnecessary.  That seems simplistic.

Some details have been reported since Trayvon Martin was killed that don't seem to be in dispute.  We also have some reporting on statements Zimmerman has made.  While Ie would hope more details will emerge from the trial, let's analyze what we think we know up to this point and how that might lead someone to believe that Zimmerman should not even have been charged with a crime,

On the night in question, Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain who is carrying a legal concealed pistol, spots a suspicious person walking in his neighborhood.  He reports this to police who advise him to not confront the suspicious person.  Zimmerman ignores this advice, confronts Martin and a fight ensues.  - - - According to Zimmerman, at some point Martin is banging Zimmerman's head on the concrete sidewalk and going for Zimmerman's gun.  Zimmerman, fearing for his life, pulls his gun and kills Martin in self-defense.

Clearly self-defense.

Given the above, above scenario, what if Martin had killed Zimmerman, what would his defense be?

Clearly self-defense. 

Replace the last two sentences in the description above (starting at “- - -”) with, “Martin, having been confronted and fighting with a stranger, discovers the man is carrying a gun and decides he must disarm or disable his opponent or risk losing his life.  Martin kills Zimmerman in self-defense.”

I hope we learn more details as the trial progresses, but it should be obvious from the above discussion that if either man could claim self-defense, it is Martin.  Zimmerman was the instigator.  If he had not confronted Martin, there would have been no fight and no death.

This case raises a lot of interesting issues.  I would like to hear Zimmerman's description of the interaction and exchange between the two men that night.  For example, did Zimmerman tell or make Martin aware he had a gun?  If so, what are the legal issues about when and how he conveyed this information.  What are the legal requirements for notifying an opponent that you are armed?  When Zimmerman approached Martin, did he assume Martin was armed or unarmed? Florida's “Stand Your Ground” law may be invoked, but again, that defense would seem to go to Martin.

Thinking through the issues, if a person legally carrying a concealed weapon, gets into a violent, physical fight in a public place with someone who is unarmed, doesn't any “self-defense” claim automatically go to the unarmed person?  The burden is then on the person with the weapon to prove that their claim of self-defense out weighs the same self-defense claim made by his unarmed opponent.

If Zimmerman could draw his weapon and put it to Martin's chest, he could have paused and said “STOP! Or I'll shoot.” 

Zimmerman may have been afraid for his life, but that doesn't mean his life was in jeopardy.   Losing a fist fight is not justification for shooting someone.  The burden to prove self-defense is on Zimmerman.  Having someone on top of you and beating you is not enough.  Was Martin really going for Zimmerman's gun?  We'll never know, but if you were Martin in that situation, what would you do?

Suppose that Martin had gotten the gun, put it to Zimmerman's chest and pulled the trigger, could he claim self-defense?

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