The George Zimmerman case has, naturally, prompted a lot of discussion in the media about self-defense and the Florida statue regarding the justifiable use of force, commonly called the “Stand Your Ground” law. As I said in a previous post, the”Stand Your Ground” nickname comes from one eight-letter phrase in a sentence referring to the justified use of deadly force:
“a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if…”
If we take Zimmerman’s account of the events of that night as true, then the above phrase is irrelevant. Zimmerman could not have retreated at the time he chose to use deadly force; he was underneath Martin and hadn’t been able to get away from him despite 30 seconds to a minute of struggling. Retreating was simply not an option. Zimmerman would have been justified regardless.
HOW WOULD MARTIN’S ACTIONS BE VIEWED WITHOUT “STAND YOUR GROUND”?
Another interesting part of this discussion is how Trayvon Martin’s actions that night would have stood the legal test if the “have no duty to retreat” clause was not included in the statute. I’ll consider a couple of scenarios for Martin. Under both scenarios, though, Zimmerman and Martin had lost sight of each other. That seems to not be in dispute on the night in question.
Could Martin have legally gone back and confronted Zimmerman? Well, simply going back and talking to Zimmerman would be fine, and just as legal as Zimmerman approaching Martin and talking to him. “Talking” in this case does not mean “making threats”; it means asking and/or answering questions, etc. However, if Martin truly believed that Zimmerman was a threat and if he had a duty to retreat, then he wouldn’t, in my opinion, have been legally justified in going back and using force against Zimmerman. Martin would have had a duty to retreat, and he could easily have just gone home and stayed there.
What if Zimmerman had caught up to him as alleged by some? What if Zimmerman had shoved him first? Then, in the absence of “stand your ground”, Martin might have been justified in throwing the punch and knocking Zimmerman down, but he would still have to try to retreat before using deadly force–e.g., slamming Zimmerman’s head into the ground. He didn’t do that. He stayed and fought or wrestled with Zimmerman, despite being on top and being able to disengage and run away. And Martin was clearly the faster runner, evidenced by the fact the he lost Zimmerman earlier.
Therefore, my opinion is that if the “Stand Your Ground” portion of the law were removed, Zimmerman’s actions would still be justified but Martin’s would not. The very portion of the law that has come under criticism by some is the only portion under which Martin’s actions can be defended. Ironic, isn’t it?
[The standard “I am not a lawyer, I just play one on the Internet” applies to the preceding discussion.]