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.Â 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.