Zimmerman Charged with Murder

Okay, so I was wrong about George Zimmerman being charged with the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.  In a previous post, I had predicted that the authorities would have a tough time putting together a case against him–even though it appears from what’s been reported in the media that Mr. Zimmerman is guilty of killing Trayvon Martin.  Why did I think that?

Assuming the news from the media is accurate, it sure looks like George Zimmerman should be charged with some level of homicide.  However, as a former prosecutor, I can tell you it’s a lot tougher than the media makes it look.

The easy part is to charge him.  The tough part will be to convince twelve jurors (if Mr. Zimmerman demands a trial) beyond a reasonable doubt that he’s guilty.  Why?  There are some major hurdles for the prosecutor in this case:

1.  There are no witnesses except Mr. Zimmerman.  Any good defense lawyer will insist that Mr. Zimmerman not say anything about the incident.  And he can never be forced to talk about what happened.  Since he’s been charged with a crime, he has a 5th amendment right to remain silent.  (Even as a suspect, he retained that constitutional right).  How will the prosecutor prove exactly what happened if there are not witnesses?  Even Trayvon Martin yelling for help, doesn’t prove that Mr. Zimmerman intentionally murdered him.

2.  If Mr. Zimmerman chooses to go to trial, he may testify in his own behalf and claim self defense.  The jury will only hear his side of what happened.

3..  The stand your ground law in Florida gives Mr. Zimmerman a tremendous legal advantage that the prosecution must over come.  Unlike most other states, Florida law allows a person to decided to defend themselves if they, the defendant, feel threatened.  In Minnesota, for instance, the actions of Mr. Zimmerman would be weighed by the jury by looking at what a reasonable person would do in similar circumstances.  Florida, in contrast, gives the jury the job of viewing the situation from Mr. Zimmerman’s perspective–i.e. did he feel threatened and therefore could kill someone in self defense.

These problems will be tough for the prosecution to overcome.  Unless they have more evidence that hasn’t been released to the media and public, I think it’ll be very difficult.

So why did they charge the case?

I think the combination of pressure from the public and media forced the authorities to do something.  Although a prosecutor has an ethical duty to only charge cases that they think they can prove, the pressure from all sides pushed this prosecutor to act.

It’ll be interesting to see what develops…  Earlier in the week it appeared that Mr. Zimmerman had fired his lawyers and was anxious to talk to the media.  If this is true and he does talk…who knows what he’ll say and how it may affect his defense.

It’s a tragic situation that is a result, in my opinion, of too many guns in the hands of untrained people backed by state laws that give them the idea that they can “shoot first and ask questions later.”

Do you agree?

About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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