Many Americans were shocked by the July 13, 2013 not guilty verdicts of the Defendant, George Zimmerman who was accused of 2nd degree murder and manslaughter of a 17 year old unarmed high school student, Trayvon Martin in February of 2012.
For those unversed in the law the killing of an unarmed person who was not committing any crime might seem like a slam dunk for conviction. However, an understanding of self defense laws which are very similar across the nation, helps explain why a conviction was never a foregone conclusion.
Deadly force may be used against someone in Florida if the person feels like he may suffer death or great bodily injury if he does not use deadly force. In California the force used may be deadly if it is necessary for the person to protect himself against the threat. In the Trayvon Martin matter Mr. Zimmerman had cuts on the back of his head that were bleeding and a swollen nose. He claimed that Trayvon slammed his head into the sidewalk multiple times and punched him in the nose. An independent witness said that he saw Trayvon on top of Mr. Zimmerman giving him a “MMA style” “ground and pound”. That description can be summarized by saying that Mr. Zimmerman appeared to be receiving a severe beating from Trayvon. During this altercation, Mr. Zimmerman shot Trayvon through the heart and killed him.
The jurors were probably conflicted in that Trayvon was unarmed and Mr. Zimmerman was told by the police not to pursue Trayvon or get involved. He ignored them and apparently confronted Trayvon when the altercation broke out. One significant gap in the evidence is that we only have Mr. Zimmerman’s recollection of his initial physical contact with Trayvon: he claims Trayvon jumped out and punched him. The fact that Mr. Zimmerman killed the only other witness to that initial confrontation angers many. Regardless, the jurors had to make a decision on the facts offered at trial. It seems clear that given Mr. Zimmerman’s injuries were consistent with his being attacked and that the bullet wound to Trayvon was also consistent with Mr. Zimmerman being on the bottom, it makes sense that a jury could have found that he was acting in self defense. Even if a juror was skeptical as to whether Mr. Zimmerman was acting in self defense, the juror might have had felt there was a reasonable doubt because Zimmerman may have been acting in self defense.
In the emotion that followed this case it is important to keep in mind that Mr. Zimmerman was not found innocent, he was found not guilty. This does not mean he did not commit a crime, it just means that the Government failed to prove its case or for whatever reason there was simply insufficient evidence to convict. See People of the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman(2013).
Criminal Law Updates by the Law Offices of Orange County Defense Lawyer William W. Bruzzo (714) 547-4636