For two months now, all we’ve heard is how an evil white guy in Florida gunned down a poor, innocent black kid in cold blood, and I’m sick of it.
I’ve spoken out on this on Facebook and message boards quite a bit, but it’s time to lay everything out, both in terms of understanding the situation, the law behind it, the people involved, and the fluff on both sides of the argument. If you don’t agree with me, feel free to start your own blog on the matter.
Here’s the facts that we actually know at this point:
- On February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch guy and concealed weapon license holder that lived in a neighborhood with rising crime rates, saw a person he thought was behaving suspiciously. He phoned it in to the non-emergency number at the Sanford, FL police department at 7:09 PM. At around 7:11-7:12, Martin begins running and Zimmerman begins to chase him. The operator tells him “We don’t need you to do that”. Zimmerman says “OK” and gives his best address location to the operator. At 7:13, he hangs up.
- Martin’s girlfriend was on the phone with him around 7:12 and was told that someone was following him. She reported that there was a verbal confrontation at some point during the phone call.
- At about 7:25, there is a physical altercation during which Zimmerman pulls a Kel-Tec PF9 pistol and fires a single shot at very close range. The slug hits Martin in the chest. At 7:26, support personnel arrive and perform lifesaving measures on Martin, who is declared dead at 7:30 PM. Zimmerman tells the police officer on site that he had shot Martin.
- According to witnesses, there was a physical altercation that involved Martin on top of Zimmerman, hitting him with his fists. Medical reports released after the event show that Zimmerman had wounds to his face, nose, and back of head, and the back of his jacket was wet and covered with grass, consistent with him lying on his back in the wet grass. Zimmerman’s hands were not bruised (indicating that he did not hit Martin). Martin’s autopsy report showed that his hands were bruised, as if he’d been hitting someone. The autopsy report also showed that Martin had THC (a byproduct of marijuana) in his system at the time of his death, but the quantity as of today is not known.
- Zimmerman was placed into police custody and taken downtown where he was photographed, interviewed, and investigated. The state attorney’s office called it self-defense and declined to pursue charges against him at the time.
- After protests by the victim’s family and rising national pressure, Florida Governor Rick Scott assigned a different state prosecutor to the case. On April 11, 2012, the new prosecutor charged Zimmerman with 2nd Degree Murder.
Here’s where we have to start talking about legal specifics. I am not a lawyer, so please consult a legal professional if you have questions about this:
- Self-defense law in the United States is simple and is accepted nationwide. If a reasonable person believes they or someone else is at risk of loss of life, serious bodily injury, or serious sexual assault, then they have the right to use deadly force in defense.
- There are two doctrines that are tied to self-defense. The first is called “duty to retreat” and it states that a defendant who is claiming self defense must prove to the court that they attempted to avoid the conflict and took reasonable steps to attempt to retreat before they used deadly force. 19 states use this doctrine.
- The second doctrine is called “stand your ground”. This doctrine states that if you are in a conflict that you did not provoke and you have to use deadly force to defend yourself, you are under no duty to retreat. 31 states use some form of this doctrine that varies from an absolute stand-your-ground law (24 states) to a limited version that only applies to home, business, car, etc. (7 states)
- Massad Ayoob nicely covers stand-your-ground laws here. You should pay attention to what he says.
- Under Florida Law, Second Degree Murder in Florida is defined as “The unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual, is murder in the second degree”. (FL State Code 782.04 (2)). In other words, it is an unlawful killing of a human being with malice, but without premeditation. A classic description of 2nd Degree Murder is if a person became angry, grabbed his usual self-defense gun, and then shot the person he was angry at.
This is what we know so far. Unfortunately, there’s so much stupid heat over this tragedy that we’ve forgotten the real facts of this case:
- A young man is dead, possibly because of his own actions.
- Another young man’s life is ruined, possibly because he defended his life against an aggressor.
Such a shame that both of these young men are being dragged through the mud by race-baiters, political hacks, media vultures deliberately editing material to poison public opinion, and politicians running for re-election.