Civil Liberties

George Zimmerman Skips Self-Defense Hearing


18th Judicial Circuit, Florida

For almost a year now I have been saying that, contrary to the impression left by press coverage of the case, George Zimmerman's defense against the second-degree murder charge he faces for killing Trayvon Martin does not hinge on the "stand your ground" provision that was added to Florida's self-defense law in 2005. That's because, according to Zimmerman's account, he was tackled by Martin and had no opportunity to retreat. The one 2005 change that could help Zimmerman, I said, was the right to a pretrial hearing where he could try to convince a judge that he reasonably believed shooting Martin was necessary to prevent death or serious injury. Now it looks like Zimmerman won't make use of that provision either. Today his lawyers announced that he has decided against presenting his self-defense claim to Seminole County, Florida, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson at a pretrial hearing scheduled for April. ABC News notes that by moving for dismissal of the case based on his self-defense claim Zimmerman would have "risked the possibility that the judge would reject the motion and the hearing would give prosecutors an opportunity to pick apart [his] testimony." 

ABC News says it is still possible that Zimmerman will opt for a self-defense hearing at a later date, giving him more time to prepare. His trial is scheduled for June 10. It is worth reiterating that the pretrial hearing is designed to save innocent people the burden of a trial in cases where there is strong evidence that their actions were justified. If the prosecution has enough evidence to convict someone beyond a reasonable doubt, it necessarily follows that the defendant could not meet the preponderance-of-evidence standard for a dismissal, which means he must show it is more likely than not that his actions were justified.