Im going to interrupt the usual stream of annoyances, grievances and overall malfeasance that I usually spew in the name of educating the public on legal issues of the day in this space. For this week, something truly column-worthy occurred in the great state of Florida.
Unless youve been hiding under a rock (or have the top pulled way down on your hoodie), you have perchance heard of the Trayvon Martin - George Zimmerman matter.
Apparently, back in February, Martin, an African-American teenager, was walking to his fathers house after stopping by a local convenience store. During this gambol, he caught the eye of Zimmerman, a member of the neighborhood watch, a volunteer organization. Zimmerman called the cops to report Martins suspicious activity, and the police told him that they would send a car to investigate and to break off contact with the suspect. Zimmerman did not follow the polices advice, something ensued and, in the end, Martin was shot dead.
Initially, it appeared that Zimmerman was going to escape prosecution through the application of Floridas stand your ground law. This law, from what I understand, allows one to defend their position with any amount of force necessary. Therefore, if Martin made a move to attack Zimmerman, Zimmerman could use as much force as needed to neutralize the threat posed by Martin.
However, this past week, it appears that Zimmermans luck has run out. A special prosecutor announced that the State of Florida would be pressing charges against Zimmerman in the form of second degree murder. This could be problematic for all involved.
You see, in my opinion, there has to be a trial in this matter. The public, i.e., those in the Martin camp and those in the Zimmerman camp, will not accept a plea deal. If a deal is handed down, both will likely explode, and no one wants that. As such, the trial must go on, and the consequences must be accepted.
What would those consequences be?
Well, for starters, I found it terribly interesting the special prosecutor decided to go with second degree murder instead of some stripe of manslaughter. Manslaughter is usually a catch all in situations like these. Somebody commits an act, regardless of their state of mind, which results in a death boom, manslaughter.
Now this is a terribly simplistic way to describe it, but in this instance, its all thats needed. To make a second degree murder charge stick, you have to have an act, with intent, a death and the act has to be malicious.
Generally, to prove malice, malicious intent and/or malice aforethought, the court must find the individual acted with a reckless disregard for human life.
Proving that doesnt sound like such a chore, does it? I mean, an unarmed kid comes at you (maybe swinging his fists, maybe not) and you shoot him. Seems kind of reckless to me.
But heres where the stand your ground law comes in if the kid looks like hes going to attack you with the intent to commit serious bodily harm on your person, then you have the legal right in Florida to defend yourself.
As an aside, I think the Florida stand your ground law is a bit thin. However, this case may be used to put some meat on the bones of the law by further defining its terms and providing situations where such actions are acceptable.
When I was in law school, there was the castle doctrine, which meant you could defend your house with any and all force needed to expel the intruder. However, that only applied to your house. If someone came up to you on the street and tried to mug you, you could not use a gun to defend yourself. The violence between two parties, if it makes any sense, had to be equal.
In this instance, I believe the special prosecutor has painted herself into a corner. If the eyewitness is to be believed, Martin was beating the crap out of Zimmerman prior to the deadly incident, causing a broken nose. There has been no mention of Zimmermans medical treatment apart from the fact that he didnt look like he had a busted nose the day of the shooting. This matter, as well as its potential inconsistencies, will be decided by the jury.
And if the prosecutor cant make the second degree charge stick, Zimmerman goes free. That, in and of itself, would be a huge problem for the authorities. But, given the heat and light surrounding this case, any result, acquittal or conviction, will make this powder keg in Florida explode.
Christopher Markham writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.