Our opponents are all over this story from Florida, where a white captain of a neighborhood watch got into a tussle with a black teenage male, and through circumstances that have not yet come to light, and are still being investigated by police, he ended up shooting and killing the 17 year old, who was unarmed. Needless to say, because of the racial implications here, all sense and reason will go out the window. I don’t really have any statement as to whether the guy is a murderer or not, because all the facts are not in. This is a case that, to me, looks very similar to Gerald Ung, except that was a crowd of white guys trying to beat up an Asian guy. This is one black teenage male against a white male in his 20s. But unlike Ung, it looks like George Zimmerman took blows before resorting to deadly force, and unlike Zimmerman, Ung had multiple attackers. Generally speaking, you can more easily claim self-defense using deadly force against multiple, armed attackers than you can a single, unarmed attacker.
I’m not an expert in Florida’s self-defense law, but it is a castle doctrine state, which means there’s not a duty to retreat. Traditionally, under common law, you were justified in using deadly force to stop commission of a felony. It was not only justified, at the time it was considered a civic duty to do so. In the case of an affray between two law abiding people, which is the case here, you were required to retreat before resorting to deadly force.
Given the circumstances, I think it’s likely this guy’s case will go before a grand jury. I would not be surprised if the grand jury hands down a bill if the facts surrounding the affray and shooting are in dispute. This case reminds me of the Joe Horn case, who ended up no billed by a Texas Grand Jury. Generally, to be able to claim you killed in self-defense against an unarmed person, you would have to prove that there was a force disparity. If Zimmerman was on the ground and getting bloodied, a force disparity is going to be a lot more believable to a jury. But there are some lessons here, regardless of the outcome of the case:
- Zimmerman was following the kid, on the phone with 911, saying the kid looked suspicious. There’s not any facts that have come out to indicate what was suspicious, other than a black teenager walking through a predominately white, wealthy neighborhood. The 911 dispatch told him not to confront the kid, and wait for the police. He should have heeded that advice. We carry guns for self-defense, we’re not cops. It would have been one thing if he was stopping a robbery, but questioning “suspicious” people is a job for the police.
- You need to have options all the way up and down the force continuum. You don’t want your only option to be fists and deadly force.
- You never want to be in a position where you initiate the confrontation that leads to a shooting. The law and juries frown on that, and for justifiable reasons. I would not be surprised at all if the grand jury hands down a bill of indictment and this goes to trial based on this fact alone.
- There’s nothing unmanly about running away from a fight. If you’re armed, you should run away from a fight. Ask yourself whether you’d rather deal with having run away, or whether you want to deal with six figure legal fees for shooting someone? Or worse, end up in prison. The law says you have no duty to retreat. That doesn’t mean retreat isn’t a good idea.
So that’s my two cents. I think this case is going to trial, personally. But we’ll see. Depends on what facts are made public once the police investigation is over. It’ll be really surprised if it doesn’t at least go to a grand jury. Zimmerman never should have confronted the kid, and I’ll be really curious as to what objective behavior was making him a suspicious person. If it was a case of the kid being black in a white neighborhood, that’s really going to look bad to a jury, and it should.
UPDATE: Looks like a witness is talking to the media here. If he was down on the ground getting pummeled, unable to disengage from the fight, that’s going to point more favorably to self-defense. Sucks for the family, but one way to avoid your kids getting shot is to teach them it’s wrong to beat people up.