You’ve probably followed the tragic story from Sanford, Florida where George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin over some disagreement. There were no witnesses, other than the victim and Mr. Zimmerman, and the only evidence is the 911 recordings and Mr. Z’s version.
It appears that Mr. Zimmerman was a local “watch captain” carrying a gun, who thought Trayvon was “suspicious.” Even though the 911 operator advised Zimmerman not to interfere or follow the young, unarmed man, Zimmerman did and confronted him. They argued until Zimmerman shot Trayvon, saying he did it in self defense.
Of course, the public outcry is huge, demanding justice for the victim which most people see as Mr. Zimmerman being charged with homicide.
Three issues affect this decision:
1. Racism. Many people accuse the local law enforcement of racism–if the shooter had been black and the victim Hispanic or white, homicide charges would already have been charged. Could be.
It’s impossible to speculate on this, but it’s important to remember that the police don’t charge a crime like this. Felonies are typically investigated by police and then reviewed by a lawyer/prosecutor who actually makes the charging decision–if he thinks a crime has been committed and he can prove it. That decision is still pending but will be heavily affected by the following issues:
2. Evidence. If Mr. Zimmerman is charged with a homicide, the government would have to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before a jury, if Zimmerman demanded a trial which is his right.
What evidence does the prosecution have to do this?
Apparently, there were no witnesses and the 911 recordings only reveal an argument with Trayvon yelling for help before the shooting–suspicious but the government will have a hard time proving it was a homicide without more evidence.
3. Stand Your Ground Law. In Minnesota, the legislature recently passed a bill similar to the law that exists in Florida. The Minnesota governor vetoed the bill–perhaps worried about situations exactly like this one. Here’s the difficulty such laws make for prosecutors. (In Minnesota many police departments and prosecutors testified against the new law)
Prior to this law, if someone shot another person outside of the shooter’s home, the government and a jury would look at the shooter’s behavior from the objective perspective of a “reasonable person.” Which means, “what would the average person do in a similar situation?” Usually, that would mean not getting involved in the first place or, if threatened, first trying to get away and only, in the end, if deadly force was threatened, could the average person kill in self defense.
The new law uses a standard that’s not objective, but subjective–if the shooter feels threatened, that gives him the right to shoot and kill. Even if no one else faced with the same situation would have reacted that way. That’s exactly what Mr. Zimmerman has done–saying he felt threatened and acted in self defense. Even though the victim was “armed” with only a bag of Skittles and an iced tea.
I know the political pressure and Rev. Al Sharpton who will travel to Florida to urge prosecution and justice will be strong,. Still, the prosecutors are hampered by both the lack of evidence and the law which the Florida citizens passed.
I don’t expect charges will be filed. Let’s see what happens.