A couple of points, one of which is a correction. The “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida was responsible for the delay in the trial, and, by some accounts, the difficulty in getting all the forensic evidence after so much time had passed. There’s little question that it was a law George Zimmerman was aware of. But it was not directly used by the defense in the actual trial, as I suggested, where the case became a classic one of self-defense in a very murky incident in the dark with no reliable witnesses. Josh Marshall has a good post on this nuance – but the Florida self-defense law is the same as in every state but Ohio. Eugene Volokh notes:
Who should bear the burden of proving or disproving self-defense in criminal cases, and by what quantum (preponderance of the evidence, clear and convincing evidence, or beyond a reasonable doubt), is an interesting question. But on this point, Florida law is precisely the same as in nearly all other states: In 49 of the 50 states, once the defense introduces any evidence of possible self-defense, the prosecution must disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.
This goes back as far as 1877:
“When a person, being without fault, is in a place where he has a right to be, is violently assaulted, he may, without retreating, repel by force, and if, in the reasonable exercise of his right of self defense, his assailant is killed, he is justiciable.”
The phrase “being without fault” seems problematic to me in this case. Once Zimmerman ignored the police warnings to leave Martin alone and let them handle it, it seems to me he was at fault. And that decision was the critical moment Martin’s life came under threat. With the Stand Your Ground law behind him, Zimmerman kept up his amateur policing. It’s the permissiveness of that law that can cause the emboldening of vigilantes. In the end, though, none of that mattered save Zimmerman’s contention that he had no way to retreat under alleged assault by Martin, and so was justified in killing an unarmed individual.
Still, it’s hard to read stories like this one without wondering how deeply this case may have shifted the sense of some whites that if they gun down kids in hoodies, they’ve got the law on their side. To wit:
In November, black youth Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old Jacksonville resident, was the only person murdered after Michael Dunn, 46, allegedly shot into the SUV Davis was inside several times after an argument about the volume of music playing … At the Gate Station, Rouer said Dunn told her that he hated “thug music.” Rouer then went inside the store to make purchases and heard several gunshots while she was still within the building.
Upon returning and seeing Dunn put his gun back into the glove compartment, Rouer asked why he had shot at the car playing music and Dunn claimed that he feared for his life and that “they threatened to kill me.” The couple drove back to their hotel, and claim they did not realize anyone had died until the story appeared on the news the next day.
What scares the shit out of me is the detail that the alleged murderer did not even blink as he got back in his car. His defense is that the black teens he shot at had a gun, even though no evidence has surfaced to prove that in any way, and that he shot in self-defense. But:
Without solid evidence from both sides and one surveillance video that only shows the story from the inside of the convenience store, this case has a long way to go.
What mindset allows you to shoot into a car full of teens because you hate “thug music”, and drive off as if nothing had happened? The mindset of Geraldo Rivera. I remain of the view that the best response to this case is to repeal these laws that empower vigilantes and all but encourage the murder of young black men – if you can find one alone, with few witnesses, and a semblance of a suspicion.