The George Zimmerman Case

Thursday, May 10th, 2012 at 11:30 am Posted in Articles, Criminal Law, In The News

The George Zimmerman Case: The Foreseeable Outcome to a Dangerous Equation

It is easy and convenient to blame George Zimmerman for the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17 year old who Mr. Zimmerman mistook for a potential criminal.  After all, George Zimmerman chose to arm himself with a handgun when he decided to patrol his neighborhood looking for would-be criminals.  He spotted Trayvon Martin and assumed that Trayvon was a potential criminal.  He ended up shooting and killing Trayvon, who was not armed and not doing anything wrong.  But, while it feels intuitively good to blame George Zimmerman, is that where the story ends?  Or, should we consider the reasons that may have led to George Zimmerman acting as he did?  In fact, it may be that George Zimmerman was acting within the law.  His conduct may have been permitted under the law.  Furthermore, the laws that allow Zimmerman to act as he did may have led to this foreseeable tragedy.  Whether we like it or not, the recipe for this disaster has been in play for a while.  It was only a matter of time before someone stepped into the minefield where stereo-types, flawed human judgment and gun rights intersect.  George Zimmerman just happened to be that person.  George Zimmerman will come and go.  However, the underlying issues will inevitably lead to more tragedy, unless we use this as an opportunity to effectuate change.

Florida has enacted a pro-gun-rights law known as the “Stand Your Ground” law.  This law allows someone like George Zimmerman to stand-up to a would be threat without having to retreat – even if that means using deadly force.  The law at its heart is the old self-defense law, but does not require one to retreat away from a potential threat.  Furthermore, anyone who fits under this law is not to be arrested or prosecuted for killing another person, as that person is immune from such.  In fact, a law enforcement entity that fails to abide by this law may be subject to a lawsuit from the arrestee.  If a person is arrested under this law, the person doesn’t have to wait for a jury to hear a self-defense claim.  The person can petition the court for immunity and may have the case thrown out even prior to a trial.  Even if the Judge doesn’t agree to throw out the case, the person can still present a traditional self-defense claim at trial.

In plain language, the law allows a person to kill another person who is reasonably perceived to be a threat.  In the case of George Zimmerman, if he reasonably perceived Trayvon Martin to be a threat, he may have been authorized to use force.  We don’t know all the facts to determine whether it was reasonable to perceive Trayvon Martin as a threat.  What we do know is that two law enforcement agencies investigated the case, the Sanford Police and the Seminole County State Attorney’s office.  Both agencies apparently concluded that George Zimmerman was immune from prosecution under the Stand Your Ground law, and refused to arrest him.  It wasn’t until the public outcry over the tragedy caused the Governor’s Office to appoint a special prosecutor that a charge was brought.

The Governor’s Office is walking a tight-rope here.  They have to satisfy the angry cries of the public that feel that there was unfair racial profiling at play.  At the same time, the Governor doesn’t want to upset his supporters by using the Stand Your Ground law to exonerate George Zimmerman and cause a backlash against the law.  The best result: blame George Zimmerman.  Call him a racist who doesn’t fit under the Stand Your Ground law.   The unfortunate result of this approach is that it will ignore the real underlying problems of race and gun rights that really are at the heart of this case.

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