George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012. Trayvon, a seventeen-year-old high school junior, was visiting his father, who lives in the same neighborhood as Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. On the walk back from 7-Eleven after buying Skittles and iced tea for himself and his younger brother, he encountered Zimmerman.
Zimmerman, a member of the neighborhood watch, was sitting in his car and observed what he believed as Trayvon looking suspicious. Zimmerman called the police informing them that he saw a suspicious looking person walking around the neighborhood “looking at all the houses.” He later clarified that the person he was watching was a black male. Zimmerman told police that the black male appeared to be “up to no good…[and] was on drugs or something.” The 911 dispatcher instructed Zimmerman to stay in his car and not to follow the individual. Instead of listening to the dispatcher’s instructions, he got out the car, and pursued Trayvon. After a short struggle, there was a gunshot and the unarmed Trayvon Martin lay dead in the street.
There is no “alleged shooting” in this case. Zimmerman has admitted to shooting and killing Trayvon. However, he was not arrested at the scene and he has not subsequently been arrested or charged with any crime. How can someone who admittedly shot a child dead in the street still be free? Zimmerman claims he was acting in self-defense, and the Sanford Police Department maintains that they do not have sufficient evidence to contradict this.
In most traditional self-defense cases, there are four elements that must be met: (1) the individual must not have been the initial aggressor; (2) the threat must be present; (3) the force used must be (proportional) reasonable to the threat; and (4) deadly force cannot be used unless the threat was deadly. Also, in most cases an individual has a duty to retreat, meaning that if the person can run and avoid the confrontation, then he/she must do so. However, Florida, along with sixteen other states, have enacted what are known as “stand your ground” laws, which is a modified form of self-defense. These laws essentially allow the use of deadly force in places outside of one’s home if one is attacked and believes his or her life is in danger. The stand your ground laws generally allow a person to use deadly force if they reasonably believe they are in danger, and there is no duty to retreat.
Most observers believe that Florida’s stand your ground law is what is protecting Zimmerman from prosecution. But does this law really protect Zimmerman? The stand your ground law requires that the person be attacked before they use reasonable force. Was Zimmerman actually attacked by Trayvon? In his 911 call, he did not express that he had seen a weapon on Trayvon. He merely thought Trayvon looked like he was up to no good. Is it reasonable to believe that an individual who is walking around “looking suspicious” is putting someone’s life in danger?
In response to national outrage surrounding this case, the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the FBI announced that they would investigate the case. Hopefully this will lead to a thorough investigation and the arrest of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Bethany PeakBlogger, Criminal Law Brief