In George Zimmerman Case, Prosecutors May Be Hamstrung by Florida Laws
Florida prosecutors seeking to convict a neighborhood watch volunteer of murder in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager may be hamstrung by the state’s own laws in a case defense lawyers said will also hinge on physical evidence and emergency call recordings.
George Zimmerman shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, on Feb. 26 in Sanford, a central-Florida town of 54,000 people north of Orlando. Zimmerman, 28, told authorities in the aftermath that he shot Martin in self-defense, a potent claim in a state with a law allowing the use of force instead of retreat by citizens who fear for their life.
Trayvon Martin’s parents Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton reacted to the news of George Zimmerman’s arrest and second-degree murder charges for the killing of their son.
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law enables individuals who feel threatened in a public place to “meet force with force,” rather than back away. The law prevented police from arresting Zimmerman in February, officials said at the time, and may play a role in derailing any conviction, according to several Florida defense lawyers.
Bruce Fleischer, a veteran criminal defense attorney in Miami, said what Zimmerman told the 911 dispatcher and what he said in his first statement to police will be key to his case. Any evidence showing he believed “his life was in danger” will be central to a self-defense claim.
“The argument is going to be, ‘What did he believe and what did he perceive?”’ said Fleischer, who has defended dozens of people accused of murder and manslaughter and has argued self-defense in the past. That assertion by Zimmerman, he said, is the biggest obstacle faced by the prosecution.
“It’s a recognized defense under the law, and Stand Your Ground has enhanced it,” he said.