Trayvon Martin

'Stand Your Ground' Critics Admit It Was a 'Huge Red Herring' in the Zimmerman Case

|

Video via The Orlando Sentinel

On Monday the Tampa Bay Times, no fan of Florida's self-defense law, ran a story with this headline: "Despite Backlash, 'Stand Your Ground' Laws Did Not Apply to Zimmerman Case." The article summarizes a consensus among legal experts consulted by the paper that the changes made to Florida's law in 2005, which included the elimination of the duty to retreat for people attacked outside their homes, did not figure in Zimmerman's defense or his acquittal:

Legal experts [described] the verdict on Saturday as the result of successful, garden-variety self-defense arguments that could sway a jury in any state….

Experienced prosecutors and law professors agreed that they think jurors were swayed by basic self-defense arguments made by Zimmerman's attorneys: Regardless of who initiated the encounter, at the moment the deadly shot was fired, Zimmerman feared for his life.

"I can see a similar outcome in jurisdictions without 'stand your ground' for the mere fact that the best eyewitness to counter the defense strategy was dead," said Darren Lenard Hutchinson, a professor of race and civil rights law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. "That's the terrible reality. The jurors saw a bloodied nose and that may have been enough for them."…

Bob Dekle, a retired prosecutor who also teaches at UF Law, said, "'Stand your ground' turns out to have been a huge red herring [in the Zimmerman case]. The result very well could have been the same prior to enactment of the law."

Dekle, a critic of "stand your ground" provisions, said that even if a person initiates a fight, they always have had the right to defend themselves if they're in fear of death or great bodily harm. "You don't forfeit your right to do whatever you need to do to live simply because you've been a jerk," Dekle said.

Those comments are no surprise to Sen. Tom Lee, Republican from Brandon, who was president of the Florida Senate when stand your ground legislation was passed in 2005.

"I have yet to talk to anyone who believes the stand your ground provisions were remotely relevant to this case," said Lee, who believes the law is working the way it was intended. "For me, this case centered on your right to defend yourself."

The story is especially striking because the Tampa Bay Times for years has been running stories and editorials critical of the "stand your ground" law. Last February, for instance, the paper editorialized:

The Zimmerman case alone should have [been] enough for legislators to consider repealing the law, which allows the use of lethal force with no duty to retreat if a person reasonably believes his or her life is in danger. Zimmerman invoked the "stand your ground" law even though he pursued Martin, and he wasn't arrested because the law prevents police from taking a suspect into custody without probable cause that the force used was unlawful. Only after a special prosecutor was appointed was Zimmerman charged with second-degree murder. Now Zimmerman's new lawyer claims his client acted in self-defense and is not relying on "stand your ground" to defend him.

I'm not sure in what sense Zimmerman ever "invoked" the "stand your ground" law, since he has consistently said that Trayvon Martin attacked him, knocked him to the ground, and was on top of him, hitting him and knocking his head against a concrete sidewalk, when Zimmerman shot him in self-defense. But at least the Times is now admitting this was not a "stand your ground" case after all. Except that…it still includes the shooting of Trayvon Martin in its "list of 'stand your ground' cases," which would more accurately be described as a list of cases since 2005 where people claimed their use of lethal force was justified by self-defense. Their defenses did not necessarily rely on the absence of a duty to retreat. In another case on the list, for example, Trevor Dooley claimed he shot his neighbor, David James, during an argument at a park in Valrico because James was strangling him. A judge rejected that self-defense claim at a pretrial hearing, and a jury convicted Dooley of manslaughter.

The Times not only inaccurately calls the Martin shooting a "stand your ground" case (an error it has now implicitly admitted but not corrected); it also describes crucial aspects of the case in a misleading way. It says Martin did not "initiate the confrontation," which is true only if you focus on Zimmerman's decision to follow someone he deemed suspicious, as opposed to the initiation of violence. Zimmerman said Martin started the fight, and the jury believed him, based on physical evidence and eyewitness testimony that Martin was the one on top. The Times also says Zimmerman "pursue[d] the victim," which again relates to his unwise but legal tailing of Martin. The prosecution argued that Zimmerman pursued Martin "with hate in his heart," intent on violence, but the jury rejected that theory. And the prosecution conceded that Zimmerman did nothing illegal before the fight started. Similarly, the Times says Zimmerman "could…have retreated to avoid the conflict," which is true in the sense that the shooting would not have happened if Zimmerman had stayed in his car. But according to Zimmerman's account, the gist of which the jury accepted, it is not true that he had a chance to retreat after Martin attacked him, which is the relevant question if we are trying to assess whether the right to stand your ground played a role in the case.

The jurors, judging from Anderson Cooper's interview with one of them, felt a similar impulse to transform Zimmerman's moral responsibility for starting the chain of events that ended with Martin's death into criminal culpability. But they correctly concluded the law did not allow them to do that—and for a good reason: Based on the account of the fight that they accepted, Martin played a crucial role in his own death. While it is true that Martin would still be alive if Zimmerman had simply continued on his shopping trip to Target, it is also true, based on the story told by the defense, that Martin would still be alive if he had simply gone home instead of confronting and assaulting Zimmerman. Juror B37 told Cooper she believed Zimmerman and Martin both bore responsibility for the latter's death but that Zimmerman's actions were not criminal and "his heart was in the right place."

In a statement released yesterday, Juror B37 said "my prayers are with all those who have the influence and power to modify the laws that left me with no verdict option other than 'not guilty' in order to remain within the instructions." But the only way to change the law so that someone in Zimmerman's situation could be punished would be to criminalize imprudent yet currently legal actions when they prompt a violent response. As Bob Dekle observes, "You don't forfeit your right to do whatever you need to do to live simply because you've been a jerk." It is hard to believe that justice and public safety would be served by a rule that says you have no right to defend yourself if you make someone angry enough to hit you.    

NEXT: Former Astronaut Edgar Mitchell Says UFO Cover Up Has to End

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. If she wants to make calling the cops and following a guy so you can point him out to the cops illegal, I might be able to support that.

  2. Personally wouldn’t care if “Stand your ground” were law or not; if I’m in fear of dying, I’m going to be shooting the person that is pounding my head into the pavement. Don’t really give a shit if I get locked up afterwards.

    1. RAAACCCCCCIIIIIISSSSSSSTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!

      And privileged, and probably patriarchy, and your opinion is invalid

      1. I really wish I were black, just to shut those race baiters the fuck up.

        1. Then you would be an Uncle Tom, a traitor, and obviously brainwashed.

          1. Correct. Self-hating is a virtue only when done by a white person.

        2. I really wish I were black, just to shut those race baiters the fuck up.

          Then you’re a race traitor, full of false consciousness, identifying with your oppressors.

          And an Oreo. Mmmmm….cookies.

          1. Now I’m really confused. I imagine this is how proggies feel every day.

            1. There you go. Now you’re beginning to understand. Stare into the abyss that is Progressivism.

              1. We’re doomed.

            2. A life lead without principles can be really confusing indeed.

            3. I’ve linked it before, and for all I know found it via h&r, but Is This Feminist?, with the tagline “Because being a marginal feminist is a full-time job” is an amusing satire on precisely that progressive quandary. Progressives of the last decade have entered the eating-their-young phase of their political relevance implosion.

  3. so attacking SYG becomes another means of attacking self-defense in general. Sure, no problem with that.

  4. Sanity? Proper application of the law? In my race baiting faux-crisis?

    How. Dare. You.

  5. As expected, the outragists have latched onto the juror mentioning SYG after the fact and are carrying it for everything it’s worth.

    Wow: what an astoundingly bad piece of “journalism.” Ms. Hundley should be ashamed, and her editor as well – especially for putting this illogical and politically biased nonsense on your front page! You start with the statement that a juror has admitted that the Stand Your Ground law played a part in their deliberations, then based on her personal feeling that Zimmerman feared for his life conclude that the case was therefore not a SYG decision. As we have not yet heard from the other five jurrors, your leap to such a conclusion is neither supported by your two sources (a local Republican and right-wing law professor), nor the self-serving assertation that such “matched the assessment of legal experts.” Please note that Miami law professor Dan Gelber has concluded the exact opposite, and wished you had at least bothered to get the opinion of at least one local Democrat or a more liberal law professor such as Stetson’s Professor Robert Batey

    1. I’m pretty sure the proggies don’t bother with silly things like “editing” anymore.

      1. It’s hard to edit feelings when they stream from your consciousness like eel vomit.

        1. Now I really want to Google image search this (eel vomit)…brb.

          1. Super disappointed in the results. Oh well.

            1. It was naked people, wasn’t it. Just naked people.

              1. It’s always naked people, if you dig enough.

      2. Or facts, or logic, or truth…

    2. Does this individual seriously believe that a “professor of race and civil rights law” is not liberal? (And if he’s not a Democrat, it’s only because he’s a Green, a Socialist, or a Communist.)

      1. With all due respect, what the hell is a “professor of race”? Is that like a “woman of color”?

        1. Only a racist would ask that question. 😐

        2. Sounds like NASCAR announcer after it has been translated to Latin and back.

        3. It’s what evolved from those who originally desired an equal application of the law.

        4. on the off-chance you’re serious, it’s “professor of (race and civil rights) law”

  6. Juror B37 said “my prayers are with all those who have the influence and power to modify the laws that left me with no verdict option other than ‘not guilty’ in order to remain within the instructions.” But the only way to change the law so that someone in Zimmerman’s situation could be punished would be to criminalize imprudent yet currently legal actions when they prompt a violent response.

    I think there are quite a few people in this country who would love it if every owner or carrier of a firearm were strictly liable for any damage proximately caused by it.

    1. They aren’t? That will be news to Zimmerman when the wrongful death suit papers are served.

      1. Not yet, as far as I know. The plaintiff still has to show negligence or some higher level of culpability.

        1. Sorry, I read right past ‘strict’. My bad.

      2. I would assume he meant ‘criminally’ liable.

        Because I’m guessing the GZ book and movie deal proceeds will end up with Travon’s mom

        1. Oops… never mind, I got you.

        2. From what I have read, Zimmerman is likely to be shielded from civil suit by the SYG law. Yes, apparently SYG can be invoked even though it did not come up in the criminal trial.

          1. Only if GZ wins his immunity hearing. Which he may not even be able to have, given he waived having it pre-trial. A finding of not guilty in his criminal case won’t give him statutory civil immunity.

            With the facts in this case though, if he can get the immunity hearing before a different judge, I wouldn’t be surprised if he could prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his use of force was justified That’d make him immune from further state civil proceedings.

      3. I remember reading that the natural parents of Obama’s son received a settlement for the wrongful death of Obama’s son from the homeowner’s association.

        I was under the impression that generally a plaintiff had to adjoin all of the potentially liable parties to the same claim.

        1. Well that is just a racist rule. Why do you hate young black men Coward?

        2. Only indispensable parties have to be joined. It’s very hard to show that a party is “indispensable” for this purpose.

          Ordinarily, if you’re held liable, you could then sue other potentially liable parties for contribution, but this is probably not an option for the HOA since it settled.

          1. I am thinking that Zimmerman is an indispensable party. He is the guy who committed the tort.

            1. Maybe. All I know is, those motions always seem to get denied.

              1. And a “settlement” is not a court decision. The fact that the homeowners association paid not to get sued, doesn’t prevent them from suing Zimmerman. That seems to be what happened here.

                But I can’t see how you could sue the homeowners association for the tortious actions of Zimmerman and not be forced to join Zimmerman in the suit.

                1. Is it really wise for Martin’s parents to sue? Wouldn’t Zimmerman be able to bring up every bit of dirt about Martin that the judge didn’t allow the jury to see? And since Martin was a minor, might not Zimmerman have a case, claiming that the parents responsible for the actions of their child?

            2. I thought the implication was that the HOA was not indispensable, and thus did not have to be joined to the tort against GZ. But you’re the lawyer, not me.

              1. The HOA wasn’t indispensable. Zimmerman is. So yes, they could sue Zimmerman even though they took a check from the HOA.

      4. I’m not sure the family is going to be able to do that. In a civil trial, all of Martin’s skeletons will be allowed out of the closet.

        1. And what money are they going to college from Zimmerman? They already got paid and will continue to get paid for being professional victims. They wouldn’t gain anything by suing Zimmerman.

        2. collect I mean.

  7. IF you honestly think Zimmerman attacked Martin, you should love SYG. Suppose Zimmerman had not had a gun and had just tried to beat up Martin for being a black man in the wrong neighborhood. Without SYD, Martin would have to explain to the cops how his response to the attack was reasonable and he didn’t retreat to his uncle’s house.

  8. http://www.americanthinker.com…..ional.html

    And of course, we only know about this case at all because the White House wanted us to know and its media toadies barked on command like the trained seals they are.

    1. Hidden among these documents were emails dated from just after the shooting that referenced Trayvon Martin’s uncle, Ronald Fulton.

      Ronald Fulton is on the executive committee of the Community Relations Board (CRB) of Miami-Dade County.

      IOW, Msrtin had a politically connected uncle. Otherwise, it would have probably just been a local/ regional news story about a black kid getting shot by some creepy ass cracker.

      1. Yup. That is how the White House found out about the case. They took it and ran with it. They needed some case to manufacture outrage with. The fact that it was this case not some other is because Martin had a politically connected uncle.

  9. If Zimmerman had not been armed how many people here think he would have gotten out of his truck and had the guts to approach Trayvon?

    We all know now he wasn’t much of a fighter…

    1. So what? And how do you know he “confronted” anyone? Zimmerman’s story is that he followed Martin and Martin doubled back and attacked him. And that account was backed up by Martin’s own girlfriend who testified that Martin wanted to know why some “creepy ass cracker” was following him.

      You only assume that Zimmerman confronted much less attacked Martin because you want the case to conform to your biases.

      1. and now because of Zimmerman’s gun, we can never know what really happened.

        1. And because of Zimmerman’s gun, Zimmerman isn’t dead or in the hospital recovering from a serious head injury. Did Zimmerman have a duty to die or suffer serious injury so you can know for sure what happened? I don’t see why.

          1. You need to check your privilege and stop whitesplaining against this guy’s feelings.

          2. His favorite defensive stance is the fetal position.

          3. Did Zimmerman have a duty to die or suffer serious injury so you can know for sure what happened?

            Actually in the event of Z’s death we still wouldn’t know exactly what happened because we’d only have Travon Martin’s version of events to go off of. But something tells me the troll would believe his every word without question. Because young black men never lie, whereas creepy ass crack wannabe cops lie all the time. Or some such bullshit.

        2. and now because of Zimmerman’s gun, we can never know what really happened.

          You’re more than welcome to get your own head crushed into the road if someone ever attacks you. People with greater self-preservation instincts will just have to move on in this world without you.

    2. “and had the guts to approach Trayvon?”

      Is anyone sure that he did? There’s a lot of room in between “following” and “approaching”, and I thought the defense’s narrative (however much stock you put in it) was that he had stopped following Martin for some time when he was attacked.

  10. I don’t know how anyone can be anti-self defense. It is the most basic human right. Hell, even animals know and understand this right. Every prey animal in the world fights back against predators.

    1. Because they believe in the body politic over self.

      1. And most of these people live in places where their risk of having to fight for their lives is negligible.

        1. You have to really really believe nothing bad will ever happen to you to not support self defense. I can not comprehend that level of self delusion.

    2. Humans are more evolved

      1. Lack of a self-defense instinct would seem to indicate less evolved, since less likley to be ‘fit’ in Darwinian terms.

        1. Your comment was not there when I posted. Not trying to bite on your dick.

          1. Hey, great minds and all that.

      2. I’m not sure a trait that makes you willing to die is a good example of evolution. Unless you think humans should be selected for extinction through evolution.

        1. Just like all the cops who have to self-preserve against puppies!

          1. Huh! Ok Sal, just admit you are trolling so I can proceed to ignore you.

    3. Do domesticated animals fight humans in the slaughterhouses?

      1. I’ve never worked in a slaughter house but I’ve been to rodeos and calves sure run like hell when people try to rope them.

  11. OK, so Zimmerman is a “jerk,” is he?

    Now, the very fact that we don’t know exactly what happened would militate against such convenient conclusions. Maybe he was a jerk. Maybe he was even a murderer who hunted down and shot little Trayvon just to watch him die.

    But we don’t know? The evidence didn’t refute Z’s version of events. If he was lying, the prosecution didn’t prove it. So at the very least, Z’s story of his own actions is a reasonable hypothesis, which we should at least take into consideration before passing global judgments.

    Going from the hypothesis that Z called the cops on a suspicious character, then went to check where he was so he could give the police better directions, and that Martin attacked him while he was doing all of this…how does Z become a “jerk”? Because he didn’t simply shrug and say, “oh, well, this suspicious-acting teenager probably has nothing to do with the string of burglaries in the neighborhood I am charged with protecting…no need to waste the cops’ time”? Because he didn’t double-check the street and house numbers – “oh, well, I’m sure I can give an *approximate* description of where I am”? For defending himself against someone who jumped him and bashed his head on the sidewalk – “oh, well, I suppose I deserve it because of the legacy of U.S. racism which my Peruvian ancestors had nothing to do with – I may as well lay back and enjoy the beating, and hope I don’t die”?

    1. If Zimmerman intentions were to kick Martin’s ass for being in his neighborhood, the last thing he would have done was call the cops. You don’t dial 9-11 right before you plan to attack someone.

      If Zimmerman’s plan was to confront Martin and hold him until the cops got there, he would have at the very least let Martin know he had a gun. And no way would Martin have attacked Zimmerman if he had known Zimmerman had a gun.

      So the only plausible scenario that is consistent with the facts we know is that Zimmerman followed Martin for the purpose of being able to tell the cops where he was when they got there and Martin, pissed that some white guy was following him, doubled back and proceeded to beat the shit out Zimmmerman. In other words, Zimerman’s account.

    2. “oh, well, I suppose I deserve it because of the legacy of U.S. racism which my Peruvian ancestors had nothing to do with – I may as well lay back and enjoy the beating, and hope I don’t die”?

      Yes. All of you creepy ass crackas are guilty of Blood Libel because your forebearers may or may not have engaged in slavery, lynching, poll taxes, etc., for which you and your descendants must pay, even unto the seventy-seventh generation.

      Accept your guilt so that you may be cleansed in the blood of Trayvon and forgiven by his father, Obama.

      1. I’ve done my family’s genealogy back to the 1700’s and none was a slave owner or even wealthy enough to have any servants. I’m sure if I ‘splained that while I was getting the shite beaten out of me for being a “cracka”, all will be well.

        1. Mine too. Obama’s ancestors owned more slaves than mine ever did.

          1. I think some of my ancestors did own slaves. And that has nothing to do with me personally.

            1. I read somewhere that if you have any English ancestry, you are a decedent of every person alive in England in 1100. So in addition to saying I come from Henry II, there is probably someone in there who owned a slave or something close to it. One means about as much as the other.

              1. I’m a Kraut-Mick, like Tom Hagen.

              2. I also have Cherokee ancestry, so I figure I’m just paying reparations to myself.

              3. I’m not a decedent yet.

            2. I don’t think ancestry means a whole lot because one unfaithful wife somewhere in the line and the system falls apart and is meaningless.

          2. Obama’s ancestors owned more slaves than mine ever did.

            Whatever you do don’t say that to a young black male while they’re trying to bash your head in. That’ll just enrage them more. Remember the narrative: Africans were all completely innocent and helpless victims, and Africans never ever enslaved their own kind or sold out rival tribes to European slavers. Ever.

        2. It makes no difference if your ancestors had nothing directly to do with slavery, Jim Crow, segregation or any other act of injustice. By virtue of your relative melanin deficiency, you have benefited from the culture brought about from the subjugation and oppression of others and are therefore culpable… or something.

      2. Accept your guilt so that you may be cleansed in the blood of Trayvon …

        I didn’t think blood was a particularly good cleanser. Or is that a special property of black blood?

        1. The joke uses a twist on Christian terminology.

    3. Maybe he was even a murderer who hunted down and shot little Trayvon just to watch him die.

      I once shot a man in Reno Sanford
      Just to watch him die.

      1. I know I had it coming,
        But the jury let me off
        When I hear the Nancy Grace talking
        I hang my head and cry.

        1. not bad

  12. Legal experts [described] the verdict on Saturday as the result of successful, garden-variety self-defense arguments that could sway a jury in any state….

    Experienced prosecutors and law professors agreed that they think jurors were swayed by basic self-defense arguments made by Zimmerman’s attorneys

    Is it just me, or does the word “sway” in this context have a vaguely pejorative connotation?

    1. Not just you. The implication is that the truth was bent.

    2. What struck me more about that sentence was the focus on the “arguments” rather than the evidence.

      1. Another good catch.

    3. It is not just you. Sway is a loaded term. Sway implied these kooky juries bought some goofball argument. When in reality Zimmerman made a successful affirmative defense and was, legally speaking, justified in shooting Martin.

  13. If Zimmerman had not been armed how many people here think he would have gotten out of his truck and had the guts to approach Trayvon?

    So you’re saying Martin was such a looming badass up to no good that no “reasonable person” not armed would have dared to approach him? That helps your case.

    1. No unarmed white man would ever even make eye contract with a black teenager Brooks.

      And you better stop profiling black teenagers you racist tea bagger.

    2. I said Zimmerman got his courage from the end of a gun.

      1. Why did it take any courage to confront Martin? He was just a boy going to get skittles, right?

        1. And water melon tea.

      2. Whereas Martin got his courage from his mad MMA skills?

      3. In this solemn moment comes a man, or monster, scrambling from among the rock-hollows; and, shaggy, huge as the Hyperborean Bear, hails me in Russian speech: most probably, therefore, a Russian Smuggler. With courteous brevity, I signify my indifference to contraband trade, … In vain: the monster, counting doubtless on his superior stature, … continues to advance; ever assailing me with his importunate train-oil breath; … till we stand both on the verge of the rock, the deep Sea rippling greedily down below. What argument will avail? On the thick Hyperborean, cherubic reasoning, seraphic eloquence were lost. Prepared for such extremity, I, deftly enough, whisk aside one step; draw out, from my interior reservoirs, a sufficient Birmingham Horse-pistol, and say, “Be so obliging as retire, Friend … and with promptitude!” This logic even the Hyperborean understands: fast enough, with apologetic, petitionary growl, he sidles off; and, except for suicidal as well as homicidal purposes, need not return.

        Such I hold to be the genuine use of Gunpowder: that it makes all men alike tall.

        1. Excellent! What is that from?

          “Be so obliging as retire, Friend … and with promptitude!”

          I am pretty sure young Trayvon would have gone about his business if only Zimmerman had uttered that phrase.

          1. Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus (1833-34).

  14. But not TNC.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.