George Zimmerman’s Defense Team To Request ‘Stand Your Ground’ Hearing
Big news in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case.
The George Zimmerman case is about run head first into the controversy that erupted when the story first broke in March, Florida’a Stand Your Ground Law:
George Zimmerman’s defense team formally announced today that it would seek a “stand your ground” hearing because case evidence shows “clear support for a strong claim of self-defense.”
The announcementcame via Zimmerman’s legal defense website.
Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the Feb. 26 shooting death of unarmed teenagerTrayvon Martin in Sanford.
The law has been a subject of debate since Sanford police said the evidence they collected at the scene supported Zimmerman’s claim that he shot the teen to protect himself. Police didn’t arrest Zimmerman because of it
He was not arrested until six weeks later after a series of civil rights rallies around the country by protesters, demanding that he be taken into custody and charged with a crime.
The law, enacted in 2005, allows someone to use deadly force is he has a reasonable belief that he will face death or great bodily harm.
“The primary focus of a ‘stand your ground’ hearing is whether George Zimmerman reasonably believed that his use of his weapon was necessary to prevent great bodily harm to himself at the hands of Trayvon Martin,” defense attorney Mark O’Mara wrote on the website.
Benjamin Crump, the attorney representating Trayvon Martin’s Family, released a statement this morning saying that the family feels “confident that the unjustified killing of Trayvon Benjamin Martin should and will be decided by a jury.”
“A grown man cannot profile and pursue an unarmed child, shoot him in the heart, and then claim stand your ground,” the statement read. “We believe that the killer’s motion will be denied during the stand your ground hearing, and as justice requires a jury will ultimately decide the fate of a man that killed an innocent child.”
Zimmerman’s attorneys released this statement on the website they have set up to disseminate information about the case:
Now that the State has released the majority of their discovery, the defense asserts that there is clear support for a strong claim of self-defense. Consistent with this claim of self-defense, there will be a “Stand Your Ground” hearing.
In the case against George Zimmerman, a “Stand Your Ground” hearing will essentially be a mini-trial. Most of the arguments, witnesses, experts, and evidence that the defense would muster in a criminal trial will be presented in the “Stand Your Ground” hearing.
There are significant differences between a “Stand Your Ground” hearing and a trial. In a “Stand Your Ground” hearing, there is no jury; the decision is made by the judge alone. In a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but in a “Stand Your Ground” hearing, the burden is on the defense to prove that the evidence fits the conditions of the “Stand Your Ground” law. If the Court rules in favor of the defendant in a “Stand Your Ground” hearing, not only are criminal charges dismissed, the defendant is also immune from civil actions related to the shooting. The primary focus of a “Stand Your Ground” hearing is whether George Zimmerman reasonably believed that his use of his weapon was necessary to prevent great bodily harm to himself at the hands of Trayvon Martin.
O’Mara goes on to note that there will be several months of preparation necessary for this hearing, including discovery, depositions, pre-hearing motions and other such matters, so we’re looking at several months down the road before this hearing, which will have all the trappings of a trial but without a jury, would even begin. In the event the defense effort fails, then the case would move on to trial and it was quite apparent even before this announcement that a trial would be unlikely until the beginning months of 2013 at the earliest.
Interestingly, while the prosecution would have to prove Zimmerman’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” at trial, at the Stand Your Ground hearing, the Defendant only has to prove their defense by a preponderance of the evidence, which is essentially the lowest standard of proof the law recognizes and the one that typically applies to civil cases. Basically, “preponderance of the evidence” means that the Plaintiff will win if the trier of fact believes that their version of evidence is more likely to be true than not. Another way of describing it is to say that the standard means that there’s at least a 51% chance that the Plaintiff’s case is true, while “beyond a reasonable doubt” essentially means 100% chance that it’s true. (There’s also an intermediate standard of proof called “clear and convincing evidence” has been described as being a 75% change that the party’s version of evidence is true.) Quite obviously, this lower standard of proof benefits the Defendant greatly. More importantly, even if it the defense loses the hearing they can present the same evidence in defense at trial in an effort to create the reasonable doubt that would lead to an acquittal.
Obviously, this is going to renew the debate over the recent changes to self-defense laws in the United States, and the hearing is likely to be closely followed and may even become an issue in the Presidential race. Based on the evidence that has been released publicly, though, it strikes me that that odds are going to be strongly in Zimmerman’s favor in this hearing, especially given the lower standard of proof. The only question will be whether or not the credibility problems he has had with the Presiding Judge will make it harder for Zimmerman in this hearing than it should be. If that happens, then the case could very well go to trial where the prosecution will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman committed Second Degree Murder. That isn’t going to be easy.