Surely you have all heard about the recent death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26. It has already become an occasion for national discussions on racism in America, police misconduct, and Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law
George Zimmerman is the suspect in this case, though he has yet to be charged. The state attorney’s office has said there is insufficient evidence to convict him. By Zimmerman’s own account, the shooting was in self-defense.
Zimmerman was the captain of a neighborhood watch team for the Sanford Police Department. He lived in a gated townhouse community and was known for watching out for neighbors. Though he has been criticized for carrying a gun at the time of the shooting, he had a Constitutional right to do so, and was not acting illegally.
Trayvon Martin was staying at his father’s girlfriend’s townhouse at the time of the incident, and was returning from a run to a convenience store. Zimmerman, who became suspicious, claims that he followed Martin and caught up with him, then left. He then claims that Martin attacked him while he was leaving, knocked him to the ground and repeatedly slammed his head into the pavement. Martin’s family claims that Zimmerman followed the boy, then attacked him and shot him, despite the fact that he was unarmed.
Florida law states, a person may use deadly force against an aggressor only in cases where they are reasonably sure they are faced with “imminent death or great bodily harm” or “imminent commission of a forcible felony” and have no means of escaping to safety. In all other cases, they have a duty to retreat.
The law has been criticized for promoting a “vigilante mentality,” though others argue it helps protect innocent people. Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley, who co-sponsored the law, says it does not appear to be applicable to the case. Others say it is.
As investigation in the case continues, the issue of racism and racial profiling are becoming an issue. Unfortunately, much of the media hype on the story promotes the feeling that Zimmerman is guilty of a crime that he has not even been charged. A family friend of Zimmerman’s claims that Zimmerman had no intention of taking anybody’s life, and that he cried for days after the incident. There is, of course, more going on than meets the eye.
If this case moves forward, the details will all be aired publicly at trial. Of prime importance in the case will be the self-defense issue, and whether Zimmerman was justified in his use of deadly force. Regardless of how you perceive these recent high profile cases, and whether your information comes from this side or that, the true resolution of these cases should come within the criminal justice system.
We are all very familiar with the phenomenon: “trial by media”. If you have been following along, and it would be hard not to with the volumes of media attention on these high profile cases, the truth of the guilt or innocence under the law may have little to do with “what you have heard.” The Trayvon Martin case is the case where the furor in the press and a constant stream of new and unverified information creates a soup that only a good judge and competent criminal lawyers will be able to sift through and resolve.
Both sides of the tragic case have an army of representatives and spokespeople and reams of paper with talking points. Leaks are strategically placed by some parties to defend actions or bolster position. Public opinion, that unsummoned jury of citizens, is thrown back and forth on a sea of supposed facts.
A criminal defense lawyer looks at this in a different way. First, in one of these trial by media cases a good criminal defense lawyer will know that a judge and a jury and the rules of evidence will restrict the blatant speculation and unprofessional sleuthing of the facts. Second, the judge should seriously restrict what the jury may consider under the rules of law. The past of an accused and certainly of the victim will not come into play for the titillation of the jury.
Prosecutors would have to prove that Zimmerman set into motion an unbroken chain of events that he should have known had a reasonable chance of leading to someone’s death. If Zimmerman were to be convicted of manslaughter, he would face a possible 30-year prison sentence. Normally, manslaughter carries a 15-year sentence, but Florida law imposes a harsher sentence in the death of children, the elderly, the disabled and caregivers.
The Bottom Line: I have faced this issue several times— The press reports will show a client in a particular manner, regardless of what the facts in the case may be. There can be fundamental misunderstanding of how the criminal justice system works and what the Constitutional protections are to the accused. The right to a fair and speedy trial and the right to appeal a conviction which may be in error do not operate on the 24 hour news cycle. Put my phone in your mobile. I can be reached anytime. 513-260-2099
[…] Ohio, since 2008, our rights for self- defense is known as the “Castle Doctrine”. If you are the victim of an intruder in your home, you do not have to retreat or try to get away […]