George Zimmerman Waives “Stand Your Ground” Hearing
Ever since the Trayvon Martin shooting became a national news item, it has brought focus to Florida’s “stand your ground” law, a law which strengthens the common law defense of self-defense and gives criminal defendants the right to a pre-trial evidentiary hearing on the issue of self-defense that, if successful, would result in dismissal of all charges before trial. When he first took the case on, Zimmerman’s defense attorney Mark O’Mara stated that the defense would be seeking such a hearing in the case prior to the trial date, currently scheduled for this coming summer. Today, though, the defense surprised many observers by waiving the right to a hearing under the “stand your ground” law:
George Zimmerman’s attorneys stunned court observers Tuesday when they waived their client’s right to a “Stand Your Ground” hearing slated for April that might have led to a dismissal of the charges in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin a year ago.
However, the defense lawyers didn’t say whether they would waive the immunity hearing outright. They left open the possibility for that hearing to be rolled into Zimmerman’s second degree murder trial. Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch captain in his Florida subdivision, shot and killed the teen, who was visiting a house in the area.
The move allows the defense more time to prepare for the trial this summer, but also raises the stakes.
Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law entitles a person to use deadly force if he believes his life is threatened, and absolves them of an obligation to retreat from a confrontation, even if retreat is possible.
In recent weeks, the Zimmerman defense has suffered several legal setbacks. Judge Debra Nelson has ruled in favor of the state that Zimmerman’s bail conditions should not be loosened, and that Trayvon Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump was not required to sit for a deposition about his interactions with the state’s most important witness, a young woman who was the last known person to speak with Trayvon Martin before his death on February 26 2012.
Zimmerman contends that he shot and killed the 17-year-old Martin after the teen confronted him as he walked to his father’s girlfriend’s house. Were Judge Nelson to have accepted his account under Stand Your Ground, all criminal proceedings would have immediately stopped, and Zimmerman would have walked free.
But another unfavorable ruling by Nelson could have been interpreted by jurors as a sign of guilt. Waiving the hearing could also prevent the prosecution from picking apart Zimmerman’s testimony.
An interesting decision, and somewhat surprising, but I do get the logic of their decision. In this particular case the “stand your ground” hearing was always a risky one to begin with, especially since it would require the Defense to put Zimmerman on the stand, which not only exposes him to cross-examination but also provides fodder for further cross-examination at trial should the hearing prove to be unsuccessful. Additionally, they appear to have drawn a judge who is at least somewhat skeptical of the defense position, meaning that it may be smarter to put the issue of self-defense in the hands of a jury.