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Mob Justice

I have made it pretty clear on this blog that I am not at all supportive of how George Zimmerman handled himself in circumstances that lead to the shooting of Treyvon Martin, and believe the authorities should take his case to a Grand Jury so that the evidence and witness statements can be scrutinized. But I am absolutely not a fan of trying men, and I don’t care what color they are or where they are from, in a court of public opinion. I am not a fan of mob justice. I don’t care if 20 million people sign a petition to incarcerate George Zimmerman, that’s not how the system works in this country. We arrest people when we have probable cause to arrest them, and you don’t get probable cause until an investigation turns up evidence that disproves or casts doubt on the self-defense claim. We also don’t deprive people of life or liberty without due process of law in this country.

The FBI’s civil rights division is getting itself involved in the case now. This is to be expected, and may even be welcomed by the local authorities since it takes some of the heat off them and brings in a third set of eyes to examine the evidence and witness statements. Police have released more calls in the past from Zimmerman, which show a pattern of mall ninjary and playing cop that seems to have developed over time. A new witness has also come forward, who was on the phone with Treyvon Martin when the altercation began (WARNING: Link will play an obnoxious advertisement automatically). I’ll be honest, I’m skeptical how much detail of a situation someone can get over a cell phone, particularly who threw the first punch. But assuming the witness is credible, I would argue that Treyvon has a good faith belief he was defending himself.

But on matters of self-defense, one disappointing aspect in regard to the coverage of this case, is how poorly people seem to understand self-defense law. The media could step in and presents the legal facts, but they are happy to fan flames and throw gasoline on the fire, rather than try to educate people. I think it would be very unlikely, whether there was a duty to retreat or not under Florida law, it would play into this case. Retreat has always required the ability to do it in complete safety in order for it to be required; if you’ve met the standard of a reasonable belief that grave bodily injury or death is imminent, you’re not expected to run from your attacker unless you could have done so in complete safety. The law has never required you to make a judgement about whether you could outrun your attacker, or disengage from an affray without getting stabbed, etc.

What the Zimmerman/Martin case is likely to hinge on is whether Zimmerman was faultless. Generally, in order to claim self-defense, you have to have no fault in the circumstances. In other words, who threw the first punch is relevant here. If it was Zimmerman who used unlawful force on Martin, by trying to restrain him, etc, then Zimmerman’s self-defense claim can’t stand. In fact, Martin would have the valid self-defense claim in using force to defeat Zimmerman’s use of unlawful force. The fact that Zimmerman disregarded advice from 911 is not material. What 911 tells you are not lawful orders that must be obeyed. That doesn’t play into fault here as far as the law is concerned. Word are also generally considered insufficient to surrender faultlessness. In other words, if Zimmerman asked Martin “What are you doing here?” or even if he verbally antagonized Martin, and Martin attacked, Zimmerman is still faultless legally. Even if Zimmerman unwisely pursued Martin, that still does not create fault in the eyes of the law. The validity of the self-defense claim hinges almost entirely on who started the affray. If there was not a witness to those circumstances, it hinges on Zimmerman’s statement, and whether it comports with the evidence and statements from witnesses, and whether any of it casts doubt on the self-defense claim.

One consequence of our legal system, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, is that sometimes murderers will go free. We can’t incarcerate someone because we just know he’s guilty. We can’t incarcerate someone for being a racist asshole, and disregarding all sound advice about not engaging in cop-wannabeism or mall ninjary. Incarcerating someone takes evidence, witness statements, an indictment, and a trial by a fair and impartial jury. Justice is not meted out by the mob in this country, and that is how I sincerely hope it remains. I do want to see the Martin family get a day in court before a grand jury, who can examine the evidence, and decide whether there’s grounds to indict Zimmerman. But that is a formal process, which takes time, and mob justice in the mean time isn’t going to solve anything.

65 Responses to “Mob Justice”

  1. DevsAdvocate says:

    Sebastian, this is part of their “plan”. They want this to be a big deal, they want to fan the flames, they want to use this as an example as to why we should have our rights curtailed. They’ll say: “Look! A concealed carry holder with an itchy trigger finger playing cop! Now some upstanding minority is dead… We need to get these guns off the street!”

  2. Jake says:

    One quibble: if Zimmerman did something to make Martin think he was in immediate danger, then it doesn’t matter whether he actually laid hands on Martin first or not – Martin would have been fully justified in striking Zimmerman first, and it would still be self defense.

    Given Zimmerman’s apparent behaviour immediately prior to the shooting, including essentially stalking Martin, I’d say that there is at least a legitimate possibility of a (justifiable) conviction on some form of homicide. The biggest problem now is that it has become such a hot issue that witness credibility is going to be questionable on all sides.

    • Sebastian says:

      That could be the case, certainly. The law requires the belief to be reasonable though, which legally means would a hypothetical reasonable person, in the same situation, have had a belief that the use of force was necessary.

      I’m not saying Martin didn’t have a reasonable belief in that regard, but just qualifying it with what the law requires… that the belief be reasonable.

    • Divemedic says:

      Following a person does not create a threat in the state of Florida. Martin would not be able to punch someone merely because he was being followed, unless there were some other mitigating facts. Anything said here and elsewhere on the internet is pure speculation. We need to let the cops do their job.

  3. Divemedic says:

    Thanks Sebastian. That is the point I was trying to make with my recent comments here and elsewhere. Cool heads need to prevail, and remember that cops and courts make the decision based on EVIDENCE, and not speculation, or at least they should.

    • DevsAdvocate says:

      Problem is, we’re playing by the rules, while the Gun Grabbers, the Politically Correct Assholes, and Al Sharptons are using the media as their sword an shield here. There will be no justice served here, for any of us. It’s a circus, a Kangaroo Court.

  4. Patrick H says:

    One consequence of our legal system, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, is that sometimes murderers will go free.

    I think this is the part that bothers people. They hate seeing guilty people go free. (And some of our system unjustly allows that- the “technicality” stuff). But what they fail to realize is that the structure that allows guilty people go free sometimes is the same thing that can protect innocent people from being jailed- a far worse moral atrocity.

    • Tam says:

      “Technicality” is the term law’n’order types use when they mean “adhering to the Bill of Rights.” ;)

  5. Diane says:

    The problem with the Florida law is that these cases don’t usually go before a Grand Jury.

    Here’s another case from earlier in the month http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/03/floridas-ubiquitous-castle/254544/.

    Self defense is an affirmative defense in a court of law. The Florida law circumvents the entire “court of law” part.

    • terraformer says:

      That great example of how horrible FL law is illustrates a situation where a Sheriff’s deputy was the shooter (you know, the ones moonbats like to actually put guns in their hands) and he was actually attacked not once, but twice before shooting. And you think this is a case that proves we should arrest first and investigate last? BS.

      And why did the Bakers stop their cars? The sheriff’s deputy actually has a reason to enforce state law.

      • terraformer says:

        Actually, that story was poorly written. The shooter was a security guard once I dug into the story through other sources. Either way, it is far from clear self-defense didn’t happen given that the kid was attacked twice.

    • terraformer says:

      Oh, and any prosecutor can take any case to a grand jury they want. The law isn’t the problem. What the problem is for folks who hate this law is that self-defense is even allowed.

    • terraformer says:

      BTW: Your example is still sucking wind.

      “Does this seem out of character for your friend?,” said Westbrook. “Yeah, yeah it did,” he said. “I guess he’d just gotten into a fight with his girlfriend, so that probably set him off.”

      That’s a statement about the “victim”.

      Part of the problem is people believe that angry people should be allowed to beat the piss out of someone because that’s better than letting people defend themselves because less lives will be lost. Had the Bakers not stopped their cars that night nothing would have happened. I would not be surprised if it comes out that they stopped their cars because they had been drinking and wanted to dissuade the shooter from reporting them as drunk fool behind the wheel.

    • Sebastian says:

      My understanding is that in Florida, indictments can either be via information or via grand jury. Given the notoriety of this case, I think the grand jury route is appropriate.

    • Sebastian says:

      It’s an “affirmative defense,” which means you have to affirm “Yes, I did X, where X is generally a crime, but the reason I did X is Y, where Y is a defense to that crime.” This doesn’t have to occur in a court of law. It’s routine for prosecutors to evaluate the evidence they have and decide if they have a case they can take to trial and get a conviction. Often times cases don’t go forward, even though there may technically be a case, because a prosecution knows they’ll have a tough time getting a conviction out of a jury. This case looks more watery than many I’ve seen not go forward that had better evidence.

      • terraformer says:

        Don’t let facts get in the way of a good story. The problem here is they hate self-defense, not that this law is really an impediment to criminal convictions. What this law does is create an impediment to baseless criminal charges.

      • Diane says:

        Here’s a very informative article on the statute.
        http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=elizabeth_megale

        It may be impossible to charge Zimmerman if the police granted him immunity.

        • terraformer says:

          It’s not informative, it’s more propaganda and proves the real problem people like you have is with the concept of self-defense.

          Cops don’t grant immunity. EVER. Zimmerman has not been “granted” immunity. He can be charged and likely will.

        • Sebastian says:

          Police can’t grant anyone immunity, only prosecutors can do that. Immunity agreements can also be challenged if different facts come to light.

        • Sebastian says:

          Reading a bit further, the characterization of duty to retreat under common law is completely mistaken. Duty to retreat only applied mutual affrays between otherwise law abiding people. In other words, if you voluntarily fight someone, you can’t just pull out a gun and shoot them dead without first attempting to retreat from the fight. Ironically, that would apply to this case.

          But duty to retreat never applied to shooting someone committing a felony, or entering a dwelling.

          • terraformer says:

            What you are seeing is an attempt to redefine self-defense and the legal strictures around it to make it almost impossible to use as a defense. Just like they have redefined common firearms as assault weapons, they are redefining self-defense and frankly it has worked up in my neck of the woods.

            All that propaganda piece really represents is the self-defense equivalent of the old rape justification. Blame the victim for what they were wearing. A man attacks someone in their car and the blame is laid not on the attacker but on the person who is the victim. Because if the victim just took their beating like a man, then both would be alive to be prosecuted for affray later on.

        • Sebastian says:

          Finishing up the article, I find the theory that the Florida statute confers immunity to be weak. It does create a presumption of innocence if there’s no probable cause, but that’s generally how it works even in the absence of the law. I don’t see how it can be read as granting any kind of immunity from prosecution.

    • SPQR says:

      Coates article is full of misrepresentations, and when I pointed that out to him, my comments were deleted and I was banned. You should not believe anything Coates at the Atlantic writes about this case.

  6. The girlfriend’s account might well indicate that Zimmerman struck first…but I agree with Sebastian: this is so weak that it means almost nothing. It might well be that Martin struck first. And even then, once Zimmerman was on the ground, getting hit hard enough that there was blood on the back of his head, he was legally right in shooting Martin.

    Don’t play cop. Don’t confront someone unless you have seen them commit a serious crime.

    • “he was legally right in shooting Martin”

      Now let’s raise another prospect. Did Zimmerman have his gun out. Or any other reason that Martin could have been in fear of his life in regards to a man who was stalking him. An unknown man.

      Martin being unarmed merely had his fists to defend himself. Now, just to play devil’s advocate. If you have a gun, do you have to wait until you are hit before you can shoot in self-defense? Or can you do so if you feel that your life and or well-being are threatened without cause?

      If so, Martin was potentially fully justified in hitting first in self-defense.

  7. harp1034 says:

    Zimmerman will most likely beat the rap at the state level but the feds will put him away for 10 years for violating the civil rights of a minority.

    • Sebastian says:

      Civil rights cases like that are difficult to win. Remember, the same evidence will have to go before a federal grand jury as will go before the state grand jury. If the state grand jury no bills, good chance the federal grand jury will too. The standard for getting civil rights conviction is still very high.

      What more likely is that Zimmerman will have to stave off a civil rights suit in federal court from the family. The immunity Florida law provides doesn’t apply in federal court.

      • SPQR says:

        There isn’t jurisdiction for a Federal civil rights lawsuit, as Zimmerman wasn’t acting under color of authority.

        • Sebastian says:

          There’s a portion of the civil rights act where you can go after someone for deprivation of civil rights without the need to act under color of authority, but I just realized that requires two or more people two conspire to deprive someone of civil rights.

          • SDN says:

            Two or more people? Look for the members of the neighborhood watch Zimmerman belonged to getting charged too.

            • Jake says:

              Were there any other members? I recall hearing one report that he was not part of any official neighborhood watch group, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the whole group consisted of him and… well, him.

        • terraformer says:

          I was wondering about that and I assumed what they are really up to is investigating the PD.

          • Jake says:

            “I assumed what they are really up to is investigating the PD.”

            That’s not impossible, considering that there was at least one allegation that the police were engaging in witness tampering.

  8. Matt says:

    Zimmerman told the 911 operator he was going to pursue Martin. There’s no element of self defense there. You don’t get to chase someone down, cause an altercation, shoot someone, and call it self defense. The FACT that Zimmerman told the 911 operator that he was going to pursue Martin, the 911 operator told him not to….it’s not mob justice that will lead to Zimmerman going to prison. It will be the facts. The man pursued the kid (he wasn’t on his property, he hadn’t witnessed a crime, etc) because he’s some wannabe cop, and then murdered him. It’s just astonishing that the PD/DA didn’t seek charges.

    • Patrick H says:

      There still can be an element of self defense there. Doesn’t matter what 911 told him to do in the eyes of the law. If he was following somebody who was going to rob a house, stopped him in the act, and then shot him because the burglar attacked him- that is self defense.

      We don’t know what the facts are. Self defense will hinge on who caused the altercation- you are making an assumption that Zimmerman did when we don’t know that.

      Its astonishing you didn’t read the post and the rest of the comments.

      • I believe when questioned whether Martin was actively engaged in a crime, Zimmerman stated he was not.

        So that justification for pursuit is eliminated, and the result is IMHO that Zimmerman does not have a self-defense case.

        • Matthew Carberry says:

          Following or “pursuing” someone is not illegal, regardless of whether a crime has actually been committed.

          See Sebastian’s post below.

        • Patrick H says:

          And it doesn’t matter whether Martin was engaging in a crime or not- the self defense claim comes down to the confrontation, and how that played out (who fought first, who felt in fear of their life, etc).

    • Sebastian says:

      Actually, the law doesn’t frown on you pursuing someone, and it shouldn’t. What if you were pursuing someone who dropped a wallet? The act of pursuit itself doesn’t create the elements of a crime, even if 911 told you not to. Patrick H is correct, it’s the circumstances that lead to the affray that will be considered, and it that, who was the first person to use unlawful force on the other is the question at hand.

      The pursuit was wrong, and likely motivated by racial animosity, but that doesn’t mean it was criminal.

      • When does pursuit cross over to harassment and stalking? when does it become assault?

        If I am being chased, followed, blocked and verbally threatened. Do I have a right to defend myself?

        We now have a witness who claims that Zimmerman cut off Martin’s escape. If that’s true, it’s gone beyond pursuit. I would think that falls under illegal detainment.

    • SPQR says:

      If that’s what Zimmerman did, then where did his injuries come from?

  9. harleycowboy says:

    What??! No calls of racism????

    • SPQR says:

      Best to leave those to the inflammatory media and the ghouls flocking to the Florida to get their faces on TV.

  10. arandomguy says:

    It’s good to see some people out there haven’t swept themselves into an emotional frenzy and drawn conclusions without having the information to do so. With the latest uprising stating Zimmerman said “Fuckin coons” in his 911 call, I attempted to clean up that part a bit. While I cannot say for sure what he is saying, it sounds to me like he says “These fucking cones”. Here’s the audio of it: http://www.mediafire.com/?qdvdv3bd4zjwd8b

    I’m no audio wizard by any stretch, so I’m sure someone could do this better. But again, some inconclusive bit being thrown about like wild fire for mob mentality to absorb.

    Regardless, I appreciate the open perspectives and open heads shown here. I highly dislike this guy being persecuted when the facts simply are not there to do so. Many of the pieces seem to fit in regard to Zimmerman’s account of the situation. Without having a witness to say who the aggressor was, you can’t do much beyond that. Following someone whom he perceived as a suspicious person as captain of the neighborhood watch is not being the aggressor.

    Zimmerman’s back was wet, the back of his head was bleeding along with his nose. He said he called for help in his statement, this can be heard on the 911 calls. Was it his voice? He made the statement it was before audio of the 911 calls was heard. So his statements seem to be supported.

    What’s needed is an autopsy. How close he was when he fired. Where the gunshot wound is located etc. Without a witness to the altercation, which is hard to understand really, you could only go with those bits of info to draw a conclusion.

    • I think where Martin’s body was found makes a big determination as to the case. Zimmerman claims he was assaulted from behind as he returned to his vehicle.

      If Martin’s body was not found near that location, than we know that Zimmerman had pursued Martin. And that Martin was likely concerned for his well being.

      You are right, there is not enough evidence to convict. But there is enough evidence to say this needs to go to a judicial review. Which wasn’t happening.

  11. Rydak says:

    I wish the Brian Terry and Heimi Zapada cases got this much media, but then again, he was killed with a fast n furious gun and that would make Obama and his pal Holder look bad, Can’t have that.

  12. terraformer says:

    Hey Diane? Want to get outraged?
    http://www.necn.com/03/20/12/2-men-allegedly-stab-Boston-cab-driver-i/landing_newengland.html?blockID=673686&feedID=4206

    These two committed attempted murder last night and they are already walking the street on $10K bail and weren’t even charged with attempted murder.

    See here for the details not in the paper.
    http://www.northeastshooters.com/vbulletin/threads/156802-Well-my-day-started-well-at-2-am

    I am not going to hold my breath waiting for the outrage.

  13. “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” — William Blackstone

  14. Matthew Carberry says:

    Physically accosting and grabbing someone you reasonably believe to be committing a crime (misdemeanor trespassing in this case perhaps) doesn’t legally equal “starting an affray”, it can meet the standard for proportionate use of force in making a citizen’s arrest, at least in Alaska (and that’s UCC 101 so I doubt Florida is much different).

    The “reasonable” part is supposed to be judged after the fact, and it’s equally reasonable for an innocent Martin to have believed he was being attacked and respond accordingly, but even Zimmerman following him with the intent to confront and accost him doesn’t necessarily constitute any unlawful activity which would impact his faultlessness for self-defense resulting from that encounter.

    Would have been nice if the good people of that gated community hadn’t followed the standard authoritarian line to “don’t intervene, call 911, and wait for the proper authorities.” A few more eye witnesses and onlookers might have diffused the situation or at least provided more information about the actual struggle. But they left the civic duty up to the apparent mall ninja and this is what we’re left with.

    • Sebastian says:

      Such an arrest would have to be lawful. A citizen doesn’t enjoy the same immunities as someone acting as an agent of the state. In other words, there no reasonableness test there. If your detention was unlawful, it was unlawful, and whoever you were detaining is entitled to use force to overcome you.

      • Patrick H says:

        It would be nice if we also eliminated the immunities for cops and had that same standard across the board.

        • Ian Argent says:

          This. Agents of the state acting on the behalf of the citizenry should not have more rights or protections of law than the individual citizen.

      • And isn’t the understanding that when the police inquired of Zimmerman whether a crime was in progress, the answer was no.

        And while Martin may have tresspassed in his attempt to flee Zimmerman. That action was due to Zimmerman’s actions. Furthermore, if Zimmerman followed him, he too is guilty of tresspassing. And killed Martin while committing another crime.

    • Sebastian says:

      I should also note that in most states, citizen arrest powers for petty crimes are often limited. Most states allow it if you witness the person committing a felony. Florida allows you to shoot that person dead, in fact, as do a number of other states.

      • Matthew Carberry says:

        Alaska allows it for many misdemeanors, I thought that was common. How do stores down there stop shoplifters? What if someone’s walking out of your garage with a full backpack?

        I stand corrected on the lawfulness of the arrest versus the “reasonableness”, in either case that still is actually determined, by the presiding authority, after the fact, then applied backwards.

        I guess I was trying to address the claim that “Z following then accosting Martin” inherently makes him the “aggressor” in some kind of legal sense which would remove his right to use force in self-defense as the encounter plays out, regardless of what Martin may have (however reasonably from his own perspective) done in his own defense against what he probably would have described as an illegal assault following some sort of stalking.

        I just wish he had called for help sooner, or hung up on his girl and called 911, or Z had listened to the dispatcher, or even just yelled why he wanted Martin to stop, or either had tried to get other people involved, or the residents of that neighborhood weren’t so passive, or, or, or…

        Nobody had to die that night.

        • terraformer says:

          Alaska allows it for many misdemeanors, I thought that was common. How do stores down there stop shoplifters? What if someone’s walking out of your garage with a full backpack?

          Alaska also has 6 cops, 5 of which are game wardens. I kid, but that could be the reason there is more latitude there. As for shop keepers, there is a common law exception to the felony only rule called of all things “the shopkeepers exception” for retail establishments. As for backpack and garage example, you are sol if its during the day most places but at night that’s usually a felony. YMMV.

        • “Nobody had to die that night.”

          Agreed….

          And that statement alone makes me believe this event requires full investigation, charges, and a court hearing.

          It’s too grey. Now at the time, the police likely did not have enough evidence. And taking Zimmerman’s words, arrest or release were likely the right thing to do.

          In address the media it should have been, “We are continuing to investigate the matter and are seeking any witnesses to the events that transpired. The District Attorney is reviewing the evidence we have gathered to date.”

          • Matthew Carberry says:

            Right,and this event has received “full investigation” as it has progressed.

            Arrest and charges are appropriate only when the required legal standard has been reached pursuant to the discoveries of that ongoing investigation, not before.

            A court hearing (trial?) should only occur only after an indictment has been issued by the Grand Jury based on the evidence available to support the charges proffered.

            All of the above is exactly what has been happening.

        • Matthew Carberry says:

          Alaska “Citizen’s Arrest” statute just for thoroughness.

          Note the use of “reasonably believes” throughout, paralleling the use of force in self-defense.

          Sec. 11.81.390. Use of force by a private person in making arrest or terminating an escape.

          In addition to using force justified under other sections of this chapter, a person, acting as a private person, may use nondeadly force to make the arrest or terminate the escape or attempted escape from custody of a person who the private person reasonably believes has committed a misdemeanor in the private person’s presence or a felony when and to the extent the private person reasonably believes it necessary to make that arrest or terminate that escape or attempted escape from custody. A private person may use deadly force under this section only when and to the extent the private person reasonably believes the use of deadly force is necessary to make the arrest or terminate the escape or attempted escape from custody of another who the private person reasonably believes

          (1) has committed or attempted to commit a felony which involved the use of force against a person; or

          (2) has escaped or is attempting to escape from custody while in possession of a firearm on or about the person.

  15. eric76 says:

    The shooting apparently took place in someone’s yard by the back porch. One element of the statute providing for self defense is that the person defending himself or herself must have the legal right to be where they are. Unless Zimmerman had the legal right to be in that particular back yard uninvited by the owner, then Zimmerman had no legal right to be there and his claim of self defense is not covered by the law.

    • Matthew Carberry says:

      Just off the top of my head, that depends on the statutory definition of “Trespass” under Florida statute and, if it indeed would be trespass by Zimmerman, he could probably raise a necessity defense.

      There’s no “smoking gun” on this or most other cases.

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