Jury selection begins today in State of Florida v. George M. Zimmerman, the case in which Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, is accused of second degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, a teenager who was walking through Zimmerman’s gated neighborhood in Sanford, Florida, wearing a now infamous hoodie, on a dark and rainy night in February, 2012. Zimmerman was armed with a handgun; Martin was carrying a bag of skittles and a soda.
By now the details of this case should be familiar (if not, you may view a timeline of events leading up to the shooting as well as statements made by Zimmerman, witness accounts, and the initial police report by clicking here and here).
Zimmerman was not arrested on the night of Martin’s death because he claimed he killed Martin, whom he admittedly got out of his car to pursue on foot, in self-defense during a fight that ensued in which Zimmerman had documented injuries.
Under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, a person may use deadly force in self-defense without the duty to retreat from a place in which he has a right to be, or to give up ground to an assailant, when faced with a reasonable perceived threat. Stand Your Ground laws are an extension of the Castle Doctrine – upheld by the Supreme Court – which states that a person has no duty to retreat when his home is attacked. Stand Your Ground laws simply remove the duty of retreat from other locations. Under such statutes, also referred to as “Line In The Sand” or “No Duty To Retreat” laws, other restrictions may still exist; such as when in public, a person must be carrying his firearm legally – as Zimmerman was.
Thus, he was questioned and released on the night he shot Martin.
A controversial and high-profile investigation, the Martin case has sparked rallies and protests around the country and has already resulting in the firing of Sanford’s police chief and the reassignment of the case to a special prosecutor – who eventually arrested Zimmerman and charged him with second degree murder six weeks after the incident.
Last month, Zimmerman waived his right to a Stand Your Ground pretrial immunity hearing. In such a hearing, a judge would have ruled whether Zimmerman’s actions were protected under Florida’s SYG law. A ruling in his favor would have meant that no criminal or civil trial could proceed.
Instead, Zimmerman’s attorneys have decided to try this as a self-defense case. In order to convince a jury to convict him of the second degree murder charge, Florida prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman had a “depraved mind” when he shot and killed Martin, and that he was not acting in self-defense. In Florida, using lethal force is justifiable if a person fears imminent death or great bodily harm. Jurors will be allowed to consider a lesser charge of manslaughter in the case.
The credibility of both parties has come into question in the nearly year and a half that has passed since the incident, but because he killed Martin with one gunshot to the chest – only Zimmerman is alive to tell his version of what happened that night. There are no eye witnesses to the entire scuffle between Martin and Zimmerman, so the case will ultimately hinge on whether jurors believe Zimmerman’s account or the prosecutor’s version of events. Trayvon Martin is, of course, not alive to tell his side.
Zimmerman, on the advice of his attorneys, ultimately chose not to seek immunity under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. The existence of such laws, however, came under national scrutiny in light of this case.
As I have written previously, I am against such laws as I believe they help turn both non-dangerous and potentially dangerous situations in public places into deadly ones. I do not support an environment of fear and vigilante justice that gets people killed for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that is what I believe Stand Your Ground laws create. Pursuing a person that one thinks may be suspicious (but who has not approached them) is not the job of citizens such as George Zimmerman – it is the job of law enforcement.
I am also troubled by the fact that so many people do not seem to understand that there is a true dichotomy here – one can actually be against Stand Your Ground laws and pro-gun at the same time. I am. I am a gun owner myself and fully support the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Castle Doctrine, and common law self defense, which allow people to defend themselves if they feel their life or the life of someone else around them is in imminent danger. I would not hesitate to use my weapon to defend myself or my family if we were in immediate danger in our home, business, or occupied vehicle.
I do not know if George Zimmerman acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. I have not seen all of the evidence that will be presented to the jury in Sanford, Florida charged with making that decision. I am pleased, however, that the case has made it to trial in a court of law – where it should be – so that justice may be served for both parties.
Amy Lazenby is the associate opinion editor at FITSNews. She is a wife, mother of three and small business owner with her husband who splits her time between South Carolina and Georgia. Follow her on Twitter @Mrs_Laz.