Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Zimmerman's Stand Your Ground Defence

I don't know much about the details of the Trayvon Martin shooting but the 'stand your ground' defence has been mentioned many times and my understanding is that it means you can shoot someone in self-defence if you feel your life is threatened.
It seems that Zimmerman felt his life was in danger and shot and killed Martin and so he is innocent.
I again mention that i don't know the fine details except that America has some completely crazy gun laws but the 'stand your ground' defence that i heard explained was that you could claim it in self-defence.
As Zimmerman armed himself, left his car against police advice to do so and initiated the altercation with Trayvon Martin, i'm not sure how he could then claim he was merely standing his ground in self-defence.   
If he had stayed in his car then nobody would have been killed in self-defence or otherwise so surely Zimmerman manoeuvred himself into a position where he initiated the conflict where he could claim self-defence.
Isn't this a red light for anybody in America to pick a fight with someone and then shoot them dead when they retaliate and claim they felt their life was in danger?
Maybe i'm missing something here.


Anonymous said...

if zimmerman was only talking to martin, and martin started throwing punches, then martin started the fight...

not too complex...


Lucy said...

I would say Zimmerman initiated it by arming himself and leaving his car to confront him. That's not too complex either.

Nog said...

In short, the State lost and should have lost not because of politics (both Martin and Zimmerman are Democrats), or race (both Martin and Zimmerman are nonwhite), or Stand Your Ground laws (which despite the hubub were never asserted by Zimmerman), or gun laws (no significant element of the proof was gun-specific). The State lost because it had the burden to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, a relatively particular sequence of mechanical events during the fight between Martin and Zimmerman which it simply could not prove.

1. Zimmerman never asserted Florida's "stand your ground" defense.

2. The law on self-defense is state law and varies state-to-state. Unfortunately it can be a bit nuanced.

Who started the fight may be important. When the law asks "who started the fight?", you need to know what a fight is and when and what the start is. If a fight is physical violence and the start is when the first swing happens, it is immaterial that Zimmerman imprudently got out of his car and approached Martin against the advice of the 911 operator and maybe even said something mean to Martin (i.e. "I think you're a punk criminal"). I don't know much criminal law or Florida law, but I suspect that the bar for verbal provocation is pretty high.

3. Another issue is that Florida law, unlike Texas law and the law in most states, places the burden of proof on self-defense on the prosecution which the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. In Texas, and I believe in most states, the defendant must prove self-defense by a preponderance of evidence.

So under Florida law as I understand it, the State would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Martin did not throw the first punch, or if Zimmerman threw the first punch that Zimmerman did not try to withdraw or could not withdraw.

Because Martin was 6-foot and Zimmerman was 5-8, the State would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was not on the bottom and was not the one screaming. Even if Zimmerman did everything wrong up to and through throwing the first punch, the State could not have met its burden unless it essentially proved that at no point was 6-foot tall Martin winning the fight against 5-8 Zimmerman.


Lucy said...

Then anyone could initiate a fight, and when the other person retaliates and as long as they are losing the fight, the first person could then shoot them?

Nog said...

Eh, well it's more nuanced than that. But in some sense yes.

Although the legal nuances vary among common law jurisdictions, these legal rules are not novelties of American law, but are also present in current English law. You can start a fight, kill the person you started the fight with, and then claim self-defense in England.

Also, apparently <Ma href="http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/self_defence/>the prosecution also has the burden to prove that there was no self-defense in England.<a/>

In short, it would also have been appropriate to acquit Zimmerman under English law, and of Florida law, English law, and Texas law, Texas law is probably the only one where the prosecution could have had a reasonable prospect of convicting.

Lucy said...

Not with a gun you can't, that's an American thing.

Nog said...

I'll remember to stick with knives, axes, pipes, clubs, and chains when in England in order to accommodate the local no-gun nuance.

This leaves us with this:

-England is more pro-kill in terms of legal burdens of proof (in Texas, if you kill someone, it's your burden to prove you were justified).
-England and Texas are about equally pro-kill in terms of when you can kill someone in a fight that you started.
-Texas is more pro-kill in where you can kill.
-Texas may be more pro kill in terms of how you can kill, but I'm not familiar with English law on carrying non-firearm weapons. If England has relatively liberal knife and other non-firearm carry laws, Texas and England may be about equal here.

Lucy said...

Use Clockwork Orange as an instruction manual to what you can and can't use here to kill people with in England.

effay said...

I guess I should remember to bring my giant albino penis statue the next time I visit!

Lucy said...

To my knowledge nobody has ever been sent to prison here for killing someone with a giant albino penis so i would make sure it is in your suitcase.