By popular demand, lets take some of the issues in the Zimmerman case a little deeper just for discussion’s sake. There are many levels to discuss and so few hours in the day. That being said, this is one case out of thousands that deserve attention but in this instance, we’re all familiar with it.

On the topic of “stand your ground” and the misinformation which continues to fly regarding such laws, there are several differences between that statute and what’s commonly considered self-defense.

First and foremost, the Florida “stand your ground” (SYG) statute did not apply in the Zimmerman case nor was it ever argued by the defense to apply. Typically self-defense law holds that if you’re attacked with force and fear for your life or fear great bodily harm, you must attempt to retreat until you can retreat no further, at that point you can use deadly force simply under the banner of self-defense. All states have some form of this dating back centuries.

In Florida, the SYG statute simply removes the victim’s burden to retreat and says that, if you’re the innocent party who has not provoked the attack, you do not have to retreat before deploying deadly force on your attacker. In essence, SYG is a burden-shifting law which empowers the victim in the case of an attack. In Florida there is what is known as a “stand your ground hearing” which allows you to present evidence that you stood your ground in the face of an attacker and if the court agrees, your case is dismissed since you were the innocent victim defending yourself without the need to retreat. There mere fact that George Zimmerman was on trial means that SYG did not apply to this case.

Explanation of Florida’s “stand your ground” statute:

Under Florida law, “[a] person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” § 776.013(3), Fla. Stat. (2007).

Explanation of Florida’s “stand your ground” hearing:

When the defendant files a motion to invoke the statutory immunity, then the trial court must hold a pre-trial evidentiary hearing to determine if the preponderance of the evidence warrants immunity. See State v. Yaqubie, 51 So.3d 474, 476 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010).

At the hearing, the trial court must weigh and decide factual disputes as to the defendant’s use of force to determine whether to dismiss the case based on the immunity. Peterson v. State, 983 So.2d 27, 29 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008). The defendant bears the burden of proof on the issue of whether the “stand your ground” or “castle doctrine” immunity attaches to his or her actions. Id.

During the evidentiary hearing the trial court considers the disputed issues of fact and must make a finding under the preponderance of the evidence standard. The court can either dismiss the charges or allow the prosecution to go forward.

If you apply this to the Zimmerman case it’s clear that because George Zimmerman exited his truck and followed Trayvon Martin, the SYG statute cannot apply to this case. Thus, George Zimmerman waived his right to a “stand your ground hearing” because he knew and his attorneys knew the SYG statute did not protect Zimmerman because he did not act within the confines of the SYG statute since his actions helped lead to the altercation that ended Trayvon Martin’s life.

Therefore, the demands to abolish or curtail the concept of the SYG laws around the country are misguided and do not take into account that it had no effect on the outcome of this case. Around 30 states have a similar SYG statute to Florida. Other states, such as Washington and Virginia, have SYG precedent in Common Law dating back hundreds of years.

As to what actually happened with regard to self-defense law, the jury believed that as Zimmerman and Martin fought on the ground, Martin may have pinned Zimmerman to the ground meaning Zimmerman, under pure self-defense, could not retreat and thus had the right under the law to use deadly force. Again, this scenario has nothing to do with the SYG statute in Florida law. It would have played the same way in nearly every state since it is under the banner of self-defense. Federal Law also holds the same concept of self-defense.

In some states, the burden or description of manslaughter might read differently which could have affected the outcome but in this case, the law as it was written was applied by the jury. Since they believed George Zimmerman’s account and the witness’ account of what they believe happened, self-defense law acquitted George Zimmerman, not the “stand your ground” law.

Had the jury not believed that George Zimmerman feared for his life, self-defense would not have applied either.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Under the Florida self defense law there is a bit of the SYG law. That’s why O’Mara got all the + sides without the – side. That is to say that even if GZ started the fight, saw that he was losing the fight and tapped out (called for help), if TM didn’t back off GZ had the right to shoot him. Thus once you tap out part of the SYG kicks in. O’Mara was really good & if GZ used a public defender he would be drinking powered milk for many years to come. The system sucks.

    • Actually, from what I understand, all self-defense (both state and federal) law contains a little bit of SYG in that once you’ve retreated as far as you can and you’re still in danger, you can confront your attacker and use lethal force. It doesn’t matter, in some instances like Florida self-defense law, whether your actions contributed to the situation. Once you’re essentially cornered and still in danger, you can meet force with force. That’s basic self-defense law. However, they’re still separate statutes in the law but self-defense encompasses some of the SYG concept but still keeps a burden on the victim to retreat. SYG removes the burden. In short, self-defense law exists whether or not a separate SYG statute exists but not vice-versa.

  2. The dangerous element that stand-your-ground brings in is the fact that it’s all about what you THINK, not what you do.

    Is the person attacking you? [“Well, shucks, I thought so.”]
    Is the person attacking someone else? [“It sorta looked that way, by golly.”]
    But it goes beyond that.
    The law says you can use “deadly force” if you are only WORRIED ABOUT “great bodily harm,” that is, WAY beyond eye-for-an-eye, you can kill if you think you might be, simply, hurt.
    –[“Well, you know, one thing was leading to another, and it could have ended that way.”]

    Worse yet, you can use “deadly force” “to PREVENT the commission of a forcible felony,” NOT even to “stop” a crime. It’s the personal equivalent of “preemptive war.”
    –[“You know, at the time, I thought the guy might have intended to rape me,”]
    –or [“I got confused, is felony the bad one? I thought he was stealing my bike.”]

    If you THINK you are justified, the law says you are justified. And if that means you were mistaken, you’re not even required to tell the cadaver, “oops, my bad.”

    Stand your ground laws suggest that you’re a sissy if you “run away from a fight,” and if you’re packing heat, there’s no reason to do so. It is legalized “incitement to violence,” and statistics show that is the result where the law has been instituted.

    • Actually, according to a non-partisan study of the actual data by McClatchy, SYG laws do not increase incitement to violence as you allege. According to the data, there is no discernible trend in either direction that violence is increased or decreased.

      http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/07/17/196940/no-firm-ground-on-whether-stand.html#.Uek60EGSqYF

      Most notably, the area with the worst violence is the District of Columbia which has no SYG law and some of the most strict gun control laws in the nation up to the Heller decision.

      • Nate, Dude. I mean, dude. . .that just ain’t so.

        McClatchy says there IS an increase in deaths in some places, and the ONLY reason they consider the outcome “mixed” is that there are some places where it didn’t increase deaths–but nowhere were deaths decreased. Clearly, there are many other factors that “mix” the outcome. And your suggestion that DC’s problem is BECAUSE they don’t have SYG is just plain ludicrous.

        NOTE THIS–DIRECTLY FROM THE LINK YOU PROVIDED:

        “Florida saw an uptick in murders and nonnegligent manslaughters after it passed its “stand your ground” law in 2005, . .By 2011, the number of reported justifiable homicides had jumped to 260. In Florida, that number has nearly tripled since the years immediately prior to passage of the self-defense law.

        [Of course, it wasn’t that bad everywhere, so they added:]
        “the trend has not been common across other states which have passed similar laws.

        “Last year, two Georgia State University economics researchers concluded that the laws are “associated with a significant increase in the number of homicides among whites, especially white males.” In a 55-page paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, authors Chandler B. McClellan and Erdal Tekin estimated that “between 28 and 33 additional white males are killed each month” as a result of these laws.

        “These laws are also associated with a significant increase in emergency room visits and hospital discharges related to firearm-inflicted injuries,” the Georgia State economists said.

        “Texas A&M researchers Mark Hoekstra and Cheng Cheng reached similar conclusions last year in a 43-page study that found a “statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters” in states with the enhanced self-defense laws.

        –Hoekstra and Cheng note that the law gives people a sense of immunity, so they are much more likely to pull the trigger, when there really were many other options.

        • I wasn’t saying DC’s violence problem was because of a lack of SYG, that claim would be ludicrous. I’m saying that violence exists whether there is an SYG law or not. I’m just asking for an explanation of areas where violence is off the chart despite a lack of this law that, apparently, makes everyone just start killing each other depending on who you listen to.

          You’d think the trend would be in every state that adopted such a law but it isn’t. Florida may be an outlier or maybe their statute is worded differently or is flawed in some way, I don’t know.

          Virginia has had SYG for literally centuries as Common Law precedent and yet there’s no issue here.

  3. Goethe,

    SYG can be very helpful in situations where you don’t have time to retreat. It is common knowledge that carjackings is a crime committed by gansters and young people. Remember the rash of car jackings in Florida BEFORE the rental car companies changed their policies and removed all identifiable markings from their cars? Even with that that safety measure in place, people are still being targeted, especially when driving expensive vehicles. A common ploy is to trap someone in the curb lane and to wave a weapon demanding money or worse yet the car itself and its occupants. Another ploy is the bump and jump game. They bump the car from the back and when you go out to inspect the damage they jump you.

    Read about Christopher Newsome and his girlfriend Channon Christian who were targeted, profiled, and carjacked and eventually murdered on 1/7/2007. http://www.knoxnews.com/news/news/local/channon-christian-christopher-newsom-murders/ Had they been armed, they might have met another fate.

    When I took my CCW training, I was taught to use my voice as the first deterrent. If the perpetrator doesn’t retreat and keeps coming toward me, invading my space, then I might now have any other recourse but to fire off some shots. Most women cringe at the thought of physically touching/fighting the perpetrator. Are we then (in your view of STG) suppose to just stand there and get harmed and possible abducted? A person’s chance of survivial is drastically reduced (50%) if they cooperate and are taken from point a to point b.

    We all know that the criminals will always have/acquire weapons. They are “tools of their trade”. Why can’t law abiding citizens have the same chances at defending their lives and property?

    While the Trayvon Martin case is a tragedy, it can be use to re-think watch groups. I personally like the “Guardian Angels” approach of not using weapons, but working in pairs. Alerts can be sent via cell phones reporting suspicious activities. (The university where I work uses this method). Had George used a taser, instead of a 9 mm he wouldn’t be fearing for his life now and his home association wouldn’t had to have forked over a million dollars to the Martin family! Vests/jackets/berets (identifiable clothing) should be used by patroling neighborhood watch people.

    • Daisy: I walk my neighborhood regularly, partly for exercise, partly for enjoyment, and partly hoping to get to know my neighbors. But I also keep my eyes open, and purposely scan the area. If more people did that, we’d be more safe.

      But SYG is not the answer. As Nate suggested, the law already sanctions self-defense. SYG is a redundant law, and as with most redundant laws, it ENCOURAGES activity which reason and sanity only ALLOWS.

      But the worst thing, as I noted, is that the wording of SYG is all about what you THINK, not what you do, and that is a very dangerous precedent.

    • The warrior mindset. 99% of the time you can and should do whatever you safely can to to avoid a confrontational situation. In the case of GZ, do not get out of the truck or quickly return the truck once you’ve given the 911 dispatcher what they asked for. Do not approach an individual to intervene if your life isn’t in immediate danger. As a neighborhood WATCH, you’re job is to report and observe, not apprehend.

      In our old neighborhood, there was a very well-run neighborhood watch group. The leaders were not armed with anything more than a cell phone which they used to call the non-emergency line on a few occasions when we had some vandals damaging property. I personally would carry a firearm but I would only be doing so as a means to defend my life, not to advance my ground or apprehend or confront a suspicious individual in the neighborhood, that is the job of law enforcement.

      Daisy, kudos to you for being trained in self-defense and having (or pursuing?) your CCW permit.. If more law abiding citizens were knowledgeable in self-defense, it makes it tougher for criminals. I’ve been an shooter for years but recently did a CHP course with my wife so she could begin to learn basic self-defense and obtain her CHP permit.

  4. Nate, my first thought about George was that he shouldn’t have gotten out of his vehicle because he didn’t witness a crime, but only “suspicious behavior”. It was dark and raining very hard, yet Travyon, was walking without a purpose staring into homes. George, was almost out of the complex (driving to Target) when he came across the “visitor”. (One thing that gulls me is that Travyon’s family and the media keep saying that Travyon was returning to his “home”, when he was returning to the house that he was visiting!)

    In a matter of 17 minutes, things went from bad-to worse-to horrible. George also had a right to walk the neighborhood (even when packing). He called out to Travyon (Trayvon’s gf Rachel verified this for she did give a “voice” to Trayvon) and asked him who is was and what he was doing. Travyon was a strong athlete and could have easily bolted back to the condo, if feeling “threatened”. Rachel was telling him that the only reason that a “creepy-ass cracker” would be following him is to do something sexual to him or to Chad, the 14 year old soon-to-be step-brother that was back at the condo, alone, waiting for his skittles.

    Then is when Travyon started walking faster, not toward the condo, but to the back of the complex, in the darkest area. George had lost “sight” of him and the dispatcher asked for the nearest address where Trayvon was heading. George was on his way back to his vehicle, when Trayvon attacked him. Rachel said that Travyon told her that “Trouble is coming” and that he threw the first punch. Trayon’s hands were free because he was wearing a ear piece and he kept the drink and skittles in his hoodie front pocket.

    Whoever was screaming (I think that it was George) called out 14 x for help. Police came a couple minutes too late, because George shot Trayvon at close range. George did “invite” trouble when following Trayvon. I believe he acted in haste and out of frustration because his non-confrontational methods weren’t working. There had been multiple burglaries; one other shooting before this incident. He and many others were living in an environment of fear.

    I too BELIEVE and practice pre-emptive actions to avoid trouble. Had I been those two young people in Knoxville and saw a couple of people coming towards my car, I would have sped away, ran through as many traffic lights as possible to avoid danger. I would have laid on the horn, put my flashers on to draw attention.

    I was at a gas station near the inner city, close to the hospital where I worked. I hadn’t gotten out of my vehicle when a black man came up to my window (it was rolled up) and starting saying “Hey Lady roll down your window, I need to ax you somethin”. I wasn’t scared, even though it was dusk, but I laid on the horn anyway. I wanted to send him a message that he had no business approaching me or my car. Another black man was nearby and he said to the first man “Leave her alone man, you are scaring her.”

    BTW, I haven’t applied for my CCW permit because of fear of being “targeted” if marshall law confiscated all guns. I am waiting until after the next election to apply. I also don’t like the idea of using deadly force on anyone. I have a taser that looks like a cell phone and I know how to collapse a windpipe, if need be.

    • Well first off no decent, compassionate human being likes the idea of using deadly force on another human being. It’s something you can’t take back and it can end lives and destroy others. Carrying a weapon is not to be taken lightly and should never come out of the holster unless such an extreme situation arises that warrants such force which is rare.

      You hit the nail on the head, the overriding factor involved was fear on both sides and probably frustration and anger for GZ thinking he might be witnessing another crime in his neighborhood.

      As for your story of being approached in your car, my wife would have done the same thing and it’s better to be safe than sorry, regardless of who is knocking at your window. She doesn’t like to go grocery shopping in the evenings anymore because she had an incident where a man was beginning to follow her back to the car and then got in his car and continued following her back to near our home. Could be innocent but why take the chance? Too many psychos around..

      • Nate: That’s the real problem. If we had only decent OR compassionate people, we could have all the “kill-at-will” laws we wanted, and we’d still be safe.

        • Nothing is defined as “kill-at-will”. Now you are sounding ludicrous demagoguing this issue.. SYG doesn’t apply unless someone attacks me at which point I can respond using my discretion up to and including deadly force depending on the means and severity of the attack.

          Haha.. “kill-at-will”.. you made a funny..

          • No, as I said elsewhere, if you’re a good shot, and you blow the guy away, the only testimony is yours, so you can, in fact, “kill-at-will.” All you have to do is make sure there are no third-party witnesses and then you can SAY “he attacked me.”

            SYG is that it adds nothing. We already have the self-defense concept. And, as with all redundant laws, it ENCOURAGES actions that we otherwise discourage.

            SYG does two things:

            First, it eliminates the age-old concept of “an eye for an eye.” That is, if someone SEEMS to be attacking you OR anyone else, even if they have no weapon, OR even if you just think they may be committing a crime, which you may interpret as a felony, you get to kill him. Bonus points if you get ’em with one shot.

            The second thing it does is require cops to be psychiatrists. What were you THINKING? Did you really feel threatened? The other guy may not have done anything at all, but if you THINK you are being threatened, you get ot kill them. And it’s up to cops to get inside your head about it.

            It’s a dangerous concept, and now that it has had such publicity, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start finding a lot o’ bodies.

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