George Zimmerman is not guilty. Trayvon Martin is dead.
Now Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is back on trial in the court of public opinion.
Count on a hung jury.
There’s just too much raw, partisan emotion surrounding too many intractable issues (guns, crime, race) for any major consensus.
And if the Florida Legislature actually reviews any legislation that makes the case to change the self-defense law, an acquittal is likely.
Republicans control the lawmaking body that passed the NRA-drafted law. They’re not just the defense in this case. They’re the judge and jury in Tallahassee. And polls have shown Florida voters approve of Stand Your Ground, which had a role in the Zimmerman case from start to finish.
Less than a half hour after the jury’s verdict Saturday night, the Florida Senate’s Democratic leader, Fort Lauderdale’s Chris Smith, called for a reexamination of all self-defense laws.
“The fact that a child is dead and an armed man can now walk free without so much as a backward glance sends the wrong message to Florida and its citizens,” Smith said in a written statement.
Smith, who convened a task force last year to review Stand Your Ground, said Florida’s self-defense laws are too “fuzzily defined and broadly drawn” to make clear who can use deadly force and when.
“If someone makes the claim of self defense and the only other witness to the confrontation is dead,” Smith said, “there needs to be a higher standard for proving that the use of deadly force was justified.”
But state Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who sponsored the legislation that passed in 2005, last year said he wanted to hold off on considering changes until the trial was over. And now he’s more certain than ever that Stand Your Ground is a good law.
The murder and violent-crime rates have been falling for years in Florida, which has more than 1.1 million concealed-weapon permit holders. (But the raw numbers of murders have held about the same, 1,006 last year.)
“People want to use this case for their political platform,” Baxley said. “But really, the prosecution didn’t prove its case. It wasn’t Stand Your Ground. The case came down to basic self defense: me or thee.”
However, Stand Your Ground language, which specifically removed a citizen’s “duty to retreat” in most public confrontations, appeared in the Zimmerman jury’s instructions, which said:
“If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
Sen. Smith’s predecessor, Miami Beach’s Dan Gelber, was a leading critic of Stand Your Ground in 2005 and noted Sunday on his blog that the Zimmerman jurors would have had far different instructions under the old law, which said:
“The defendant cannot justify the use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm unless he used every reasonable means within his power and consistent with his own safety to avoid the danger before resorting to that force…The fact that the defendant was wrongfully attacked cannot justify his use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm if by retreating he could have avoided the need to use that force. “