The fatal encounter between a 17-year-old black teenager and a mixed-race neighborhood watch volunteer has created a furor over “stand your ground” laws, which have been enacted in more than 20 states; legislation is pending in others.
Murder vs. manslaughter: Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder, “an act imminently dangerous to another, and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life.” But a Miami criminal defense attorney who teaches trial strategy explained that “[s]econd degree murder is a crime that is hot-blooded and committed with a depraved mind.”
Is “stand your ground” actually relevant to George Zimmerman? In terms of legal defense, maybe not. “Stand your ground” is an expansion on the so-called Castle Doctrine, the right to defend one’s homestead. Instead of defending yourself on your own personal property, though, “stand your ground” lets you carry that immunity into public property, which can include places of business, like a bar.
Confusion around the law: Supporters such as former Republican senator Durell Peaden and Rep. Dennis Baxley, who co-sponsored the bill, or former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who signed the bill into law, have said Zimmerman lost his right to this defense when he sought out Martin. Bush stated that “Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.”
But since the law may be confusing to enforcement—the controversy blew up when Sanford police declined to make an arrest—it has bolstered critics ranging from State Senator Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to call for widespread reform. If self-defense is sufficient, they argue, “stand your ground” may, literally, be legislative overkill.
Who makes the decision? Rather than ask how relevant “stand your ground” is in the Martin-Zimmerman case, the real question may be who makes the decisions in the first place. The Sanford city manager claimed that the law “prohibited” police from making an arrest. Should police make the arrest and leave it to the district attorney to bring charges, as would happen in self-defense cases? Should such cases appear before a judge? Does a jury make the call? These are some of the core questions that will be revisited in the coming months, if not years.
Source: Yahoo News
Image: The Grio