Massad Ayoob on the Zimmerman Case

The whole thing is worth reading, but I have to agree with this part:

I’m seeing some defending Zimmerman, and most demanding his head on a platter, and a whole lot of people who don’t understand how the justice system is geared to approach these things.

Emphasis is mine, which to me is the biggest disappointment in this case. Part of the duty of an effective media should be to educate citizens on issues. Self-defense law is a complex issue, and difficult for lay people, who have no exposure to how the legal system works, or how law in general works, to really wrap their heads around. As far as I’ve seen, the media has made no real attempt to speak with actual experts, or give anything more than a superficial look at the legal issues surrounding this case. There has been a narrative the media has wished to maintain, and they have maintained it. Educating the public has been thrown out the window.

22 thoughts on “Massad Ayoob on the Zimmerman Case”

  1. Its against the law to pursue a person with the intention of commuting a crime. Its against the law to place yourself in what is considered to be potential “deadly actions” that would be committed by yourself or another. You may only meet another with what is considered to be “equal force”, it is also your personal responsibility to avoid any involvement in criminal activity if possible. About the man who called in saying he was a witness: he never mentioned a gunshot only a physical quarrel and a body after he removed himself from potentially immediate harm as is his responsibility.

    1. What you’re stating here is not the law. I’m not aware of any state where it’s illegal to pursue someone, and even if one did, prosecutors would be required to prove intent beyond a reasonable doubt, which would be difficult.

      Equal force is a requirement in no state that I know of. The standard for using force (but not deadly force) is generally being reasonably in fear of imminent use of unlawful force being used against you, or in recovering property, fending off unlawful force, removing a trespasser, etc. Force, in this case, is just physical force. I grab you, drag you off my property, or wrestle something you stole from me away from you. It could also be use of pepper spray, a stun gun, etc.

      The standard for deadly force, in every state, is being in reasonable fear of grave bodily injury or death. States define grave bodily injury or death different, but typically it’s force that would put generally risk putting you in the hospital. A few states require retreat before resorting to deadly force, but most do not. Those that do only require retreat in cases where you can retreat in complete safety, which is a difficult standard for a prosecutor to meet.

      Also, the reasonableness standard on all of this, is not what the media portrays. Not all fear is legally reasonable. Generally speaking, reasonableness is something judges and juries decide. It is a legal standard that means something. You can just claim any old fear, and it’s reasonable.

      There was one witness who said he saw Martin on top of Zimmerman, beating Zimmerman, before he heard the shot. The question still remaining to be answered are what the circumstances were that put Martin there, and whether Martin was legally defending himself, in which case Zimmerman couldn’t claim such.

      But the fact of the matter is, when you have a case where one party is dead, and there was no one who witnessed the whole thing, it’s going to be a more difficult case for prosecutors to win. Zimmerman is claiming self-defense. So far his statements have matched the evidence the authorities have. Prosecutors have to prove the guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and that can be tough in cases like this. Sometimes our system allows murderers to go free, but that’s the price we pay for the constitutional safeguards that prevent the Government from just declaring people guilty and locking them up.

      1. NJ requires that force be roughly equivalent, and proportionate; and that deadly force can only be used in response to deadly force. See the jury instruction I posted on the stand-your-ground-states pay off tips.

        1. I saw it… I didn’t notice it to be a true proportional force requirement. You can still use deadly force if you’re in reasonable fear of great bodily injury or death. Though, I don’t know if I’d want to take my chances with a NJ jury.

          1. ” if the force used by the defendant was disproportionate in its intensity, then the use of such force by the defendant was not justified and the self defense claim fails”
            “The use of deadly force may be justified only to defend against force or the threat of force of nearly equal severity and is not justifiable unless the defendant reasonably believes that such force is necessary to protect (himself/herself) against death or serious bodily harm”
            Emphasis added. That’s what the jurors will be instructed when you plead self-defense; just as I was so instructed when I was a juror on an assault case where self-defense was an element.
            I would have to say that NJ law as-applied (based on that instruction) absolutely does have a proportionality requirement. Whether an honest reading of the statute would support that, I can’t say. IANAL, nor yet an NJ judge.
            What’s really scary from a self-defense standpoint is that those instructions clearly note that threatening with a firearm is not considered deadly force. It ought to come under the “reasonable fear of use of deadly force” clause, but because it is specifically noted as not being use of deadly force a juror could draw the conclusion that you actually have to be shout at before responding with deadly force.

      2. Florida doesn’t have laws against stalking or threatening? I find that hard to believe. Whether or not they are written in a way that could be made to stick on Zimmerman in court is a different question.

      3. A few states require retreat before resorting to deadly force, but most do not. Those that do only require retreat in cases where you can retreat in complete safety, which is a difficult standard for a prosecutor to meet.

        This is not true of the case law of Massachusetts if the story I heard was correct about a case where a woman was convicted for not trying to escape through the high windows of her basement apartment.

        But that’s Massachusetts, we expect the worst from the state and are seldom disappointed. But I would add that you need to factor in “community values”, i.e. the difference between a place where the authorities will attempt to crucify you no matter what vs., say, my home town of 55K pre-tornado where the police make statements like a would-be victim had an “absolute right” to use lethal force to defend herself against a couple of home invaders.

        Although I’ll note that the officer who was the lead instructor of my Missouri CCW course, a veteran of the city’s police who’d not-exactly-retired to be the police chief of a bedroom suburb of it (and who has good taste in 1911s :-), said, with real regret, that unless a self-defense incident was entirely clean and clear cut, we were advised to say nothing to the police without retaining legal counsel.

        And there’s this case, where the local authorities, rightly or not, declined to prosecute, but the narrative of the case resulted in a total nightmare. If you’re like me or Sebastian, white “middle-aged” males, the rules can be different.

    2. ken, your understanding of self-defense law is simply wrong, especially in Florida and the majority of states.

      Certainly, what Zimmerman did in following and confronting Martin was very foolish and not recommended by any competent instructor in self-defense law – for the very obvious reasons that what he did confuses the issues of the legitimacy of his actions.

      But his self-defense claim turns on the issue of who initiated the physical confrontation and was his fear for his life or serious bodily injury reasonable. Not what you wrote.

    3. Ken, this a specific case. You have to tell exactly what Florida law he violated.

    4. When meeting someone with “equal force”, does that mean if someone is attacking you with a bat, shooting them would be consid)ered to be excessive?

    1. Oh, great. Yet another reminder of why I can’t make up my mind as to which Republican candidate is “least worst”.

  2. The media hasn’t had the goal of educating the public in decades. As tonight’s Dateline illustrated, they have an agenda, and their coverage is designed to support it.

  3. @Ken,

    Bear in mind that what is allowed by law for self-defense varies from state to state.

    ” You may only meet another with what is considered to be “equal force”,”

    That one, for example, I know is not true in Virginia (where I live) or Florida.

  4. Yea, the equal force thing, heard that before. Its an ignorant falsehood that gets passed around. Most people just believe the “street lawyers” of the world. Of which I am one of them…

    Rydak.Esq, at your service.

  5. I must be one of the few who defends Zimmerman’s actions. We as a community of gun owners gain nothing by giving the media/left a lamb to slaughter. We must stand our ground here and develop our own narrative. Zimmerman was brutally attacked by a young hoodlum while investigating a suspicious person on his neighbor’s property. He acted in self-defense, and thus far, physical evidence and eyewitness testimony support this.

    1. How about, instead of a narrative, we just stick to the facts? I was initially of the mind that Zimmerman murdered Martin. As more details come out, and as the spin by those with the press cards becomes more evident, the situation becomes considerably murkier.

      1. Tam nailed the sequence of events:

        1. Zimmerman was out doing his neighborhood watch thing and saw Martin.
        2. He called 911 and followed Martin in his vehicle.
        3. When Martin walked someplace that Zimmerman couldn’t follow in his vehicle, he got out of his vehicle and followed on foot.
        4. ???
        5. In the process of getting his ass beaten, Zimmerman busts a cap in Martin.

        #3 is a big mistake and possibly a crime. Any felony case against Zimmerman will be based on #4.

    2. No, its not in the best interests of the community of gun owners to endorse illegal acts. That the kind of tribalism that the race pimps engage in. Its not clear to me yet whether or not Zimmerman’s actions were illegal – there is too big a gap in the publicly available facts – but if he acted illegally I won’t “defend” him.

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