Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Zimmerman Case

I was relieved by the verdict, since I did not see any basis for claiming that Zimmerman had been shown to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is supposed to be the standard of proof in criminal cases. But I find the commentary, mostly online, depressing. As best I can tell, practically everyone believes he knows what happened and argues from that belief. I may be the only person in America who does not.

As best I can tell, the evidence is consistent with Zimmerman's story--that Martin attacked him and was on top of him beating his head against the concrete when Zimmerman shot him. If that story is correct, the shooting was done in self-defense, so neither murder nor manslaughter. That is true whether or not the confrontation was a result of Zimmerman following Martin around suspiciously.

But while the evidence appears consistent with that story, I don't think it is inconsistent with other stories, in particular with a version according to which Zimmerman started the fight. If he started the fight and could have ended it by letting go of Martin and running away, then the shooting was criminal. Since that could have happened, comments that depend on the confident assumption that Zimmerman's story is true are unjustified, just like comments that depend on the opposite assumption.

But it appears that very few people are willing to accept "I don't know" as a valid conclusion.

48 Comments:

At 10:14 PM, July 14, 2013, Anonymous William H. Stoddard said...

If it makes you feel any better, over in one of the Steve Jackson Games discussion groups, I've been arguing that (a) we don't know what happened and the people who confidently assert that they do are wrong but (b) there is reasonable doubt that Zimmerman had criminal intent and so Not Guilty was the right verdict, because (c) if someone really IS the innocent victim of criminal assault, we want them free to defend themselves without fearing that they'll spend a decade or two in prison for doing so. I think that's reasonably close to your view of the matter, isn't it?

 
At 10:48 PM, July 14, 2013, Blogger K. Black said...


Deadly force used in response to non-deadly force is only an "imperfect" defense: it is sufficient to reduce a murder charge to manslaughter, not as a full defense (i.e. it is a partial excuse, not a full justification). Attack without a weapon is rarely considered deadly force (especially where the only deadly weapon involved was at all times in the possession of the defendant). Furthermore, while the burden is on the prosecution to prove the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden is on the defense to establish the elements of an affirmative defense.

Here, the burden was on the defense to not only show that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, but also to show that Martin's attack rose to the level of deadly force. The Defense claimed that Martin reached for Zimmerman's gun during the altercation. The Defense had the burden to establish that Martin did so, and that his unsuccessful attempt to do so rose to the level of deadly force.

Your point that none of us knows what happened is well taken. Maybe Martin reached for the gun in way sufficient to rise to the level of deadly force. We don't know. But it seems to me that reasonable minds can differ as to whether the defense met their burden.

 
At 11:29 PM, July 14, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How's this for confidence: George walks, because "we don't know". Easy case.

If we knew what happened, the verdict becomes even easier.

I was amazed and relieved to see that politics didn't run over this entire trial. Actually, I'm astonished.

K. Black - It is my understanding that the attack didn't have to rise to any level. George has to believe X. Unprovable?

My understanding is that a person running at one with a baseball bat can be blown away under the law. The shooter needn't suffer a scratch.

Bringing my own bias into the conversation, for whatever reason, I concluded long ago George was probably guiltless.

The trial did nothing to change that conclusion.

-Zach

 
At 5:43 AM, July 15, 2013, Anonymous Max said...

Following people around in the night is not normal law-abiding behavior. It was reasonable for Martin to believe that Zimmerman meant to do him harm. It was therefore also reasonable for Zimmerman to believe that Martin was trying to seriously hurt him - because that was a reasonable thing for Martin to do and Zimmerman knew it.

I think you can completely accept Zimmerman's version of events and still find him guilty of manslaughter, since he created the dangerous circumstances that led to Martin's killing.

 
At 6:21 AM, July 15, 2013, Blogger Joseph Miller said...

Following people around in the night is not normal law-abiding behavior.

If we can fault someone for abnormal behavior, it should be Trayvon. He was suspiciously trespassing between houses at night, in the rain. Zimmerman's "not normal behavior" was much more tame.

Anyway, Zimmerman stopped his pursuit, went to meet the police, and then was attacked by Trayvon. By you standards, Trayvon is guilty of aggravated assault.

That said, I don't see a problem with any neighbor of mine keeping an eye out for suspicious people.

 
At 6:30 AM, July 15, 2013, Blogger dWj said...

A month ago, I believed that he was probably guilty but that, based on the evidence that I was aware of, it probably could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. After what I followed of the trial, I believe he was probably not guilty, though, as you note, there's not conclusive proof of that, either.

 
At 7:26 AM, July 15, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, some data points.
1) zim called the police. calling the police if you intend to start a fight is an odd move.
2) zim's a 28 year old married guy w/ a clean history. martin's a 17 year old black male w/ a documented interest in fighting, guns and drugs.
3) whereas it's hard to fathom zim calling the police and then starting a fight, it's easy to imagine martin angered by unwanted attention from a stranger.
4) eye witness evidence puts martin on top of zim, consistent w/ zim's injuries. a fight's aggressor is more likely to end up on top.
5) 4 minutes passed between when zim told dispatch he'd lost sight of martin and was going to return to his truck, and the fight itself.

if this isn't enough evidence to confidently assert that martin started the fight, and that the essential elements of zim's story are true, then we should probably avoid confident assertions of any social circumstance w/ out video documentation. i just don't think neutrality is justified here.

 
At 7:59 AM, July 15, 2013, Blogger jcast said...

As I understand it, the forensic evidence is good enough to establish two points:

1) The muzzle of Zimmerman's gun was directly against Martin's sweatshirt (the infamous hoody) when it was fired.

2) The muzzle of Zimmerman's gun was *not* pressed against Martin's belly when it was fired (Martin was shot from the front; there wasn't a bullet hole on his back).

So we have a distance of a couple of inches between Martin's sweatshirt and his body at the moment of the shot. That implies Martin was shot from beneath. Every eye witness described one man on top of the other. At the time the shooting occurred, either Zimmerman was on top --- which contradicts the forensics --- or Martin was, and Zimmerman had no way to escape (since Martin was stronger and had leverage).

 
At 9:23 AM, July 15, 2013, Blogger jimbino said...

What happens when a person, obviously carrying a gun, gets into a struggle with another. It seems to me in that case that both can be considered to be armed with a deadly weapon, since if the one carrying the weapon is subdued, the other can turn his weapon against him.

 
At 9:23 AM, July 15, 2013, Anonymous Rex Little said...

Leading up to the trial, most of the right-wing blog comments I saw said, in effect, "Zimmerman will be railroaded, because politics." Leftists were saying "Zimmerman will get off, because racism."

The feds might still trump up a civil rights charge and make the Right's prediction come true, but so far, the Left gets bragging rights on this point.

 
At 9:35 AM, July 15, 2013, Anonymous Rasputin said...

The justice department is opening up an investigation to see if they can lock up Zimmerman for something else.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/15/us/justice-department-to-restart-hate-crime-investigation-in-trayvon-martins-death.html

How relieved are you feeling now?

 
At 1:27 PM, July 15, 2013, Anonymous Patrick R. Sullivan said...

'Following people around in the night is not normal law-abiding behavior.'

Can you point us to a statute saying that?

Putting aside that there is no evidence that Zimmerman did 'follow' him, that is. As the defense attorney pointed out in his closing; there is a four minute gap between Zimmerman telling the police operator that the suspect is running, and the start of the altercation (using Jenna Lauer's 911 call as a reference).

During that 4 minutes, we have Zimmerman continuing to talk with the operator for about 2 minutes, including saying that he doesn't know 'where the kid' is.

From prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel, we have Trayvon near the back of 'his daddy's fiance's' townhouse, sixty yards away from the spot where he ends up getting shot. When she re-connects by phone with Trayvon, after it dropped off, she says, 'He sounded tired' as if he'd been running. Then, she says, she hears Trayvon say to Zimmerman, 'What are you following me for?'

Occam's Razor; Trayvon easily got to safety that night, unimpeded by Zimmerman who had no idea where he'd gone, and could have gone inside the home where he was staying. For some reason, instead, he turned back and ran to where Zimmerman was standing waiting for the police, and confronted him. A fight ensued, he got shot.

That's self-defense in almost any state in the union.

 
At 1:36 PM, July 15, 2013, Anonymous Patrick R. Sullivan said...

Something that ought to be of concern to civil libertarians is the perjurious testimony of state attorney Angela Corey, used to get Zimmerman charged. She not only omits to mention that Zimmerman suffered injuries consistent with having been assaulted, but says some things that we now know to be untrue. Specifically, that Zimmerman was given an order by the dispatcher to cease following Trayvon.

She has also filed an affidavit in order to charge Mrs. Zimmerman with perjury during the bail hearing. Which also seems deceptive, at least.

Alan Dershowitz, noting this, has called for an investigation of Corey and Bernie de la Rionda, and has even called for them to be disbarred.

 
At 1:46 PM, July 15, 2013, Anonymous Patrick said...

K. Black,

I think you are misrepresenting both Florida law and the burden of proof the defense faced. Florida law only requires that a person who uses deadly force in self-defense "reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself ..." (Fla. Stat. § 776.012). Great bodily harm is discretionary, but would typically include any harm requiring medical attention.

If we accept that Martin attacked Zimmerman and was beating him as Zimmerman lay on the ground, it certainly seems likely to me that Zimmerman would reasonably fear great bodily harm--he already had what appeared to be a broken nose and lacerations on his head. Given the injuries to his head, he really should have been taken to a hospital, since concussion was a real danger.

As for what the defense must prove, it's absolutely nothing. The burden of proof lies totally with the prosecution. In particular, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was either unreasonable in his fear or that he attacked Martin. The prosecution utterly failed to do so.

I am not certain myself of what happened, but I feel that what I've seen of the evidence weighs more heavily on Zimmerman's side than Martins. I would assign a probability of over 80% that Zimmerman was justified in self-defense. Much of my remaining uncertainty is because I have not been privy to all of the evidence the way the jury was. By contrast, proof beyond a reasonable doubt would probably need to push my confidence in that below 5 to 10%.

 
At 2:14 PM, July 15, 2013, OpenID mbrubeck said...

You're not alone, Professor Friedman. For example, Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic agrees with you that the evidence was inconclusive (and therefore the jury was correct to acquit Zimmerman).

 
At 2:31 PM, July 15, 2013, OpenID 20c38902-d3b5-11e2-847b-000bcdcb2996 said...

Anything "could" have happened, perhaps the whole scene was set up by martians and demons, but every important detail of Zimmerman's story is supported by independent evidence, plus attacking people out of the blue is form for Trayvon.

You are using the classic left wing tactic of highly selective skepticism, which is in fact unquestioning faith rhetorically disguised as skepticism.

 
At 2:38 PM, July 15, 2013, OpenID 20c38902-d3b5-11e2-847b-000bcdcb2996 said...

Blogger K. Black said...
> Attack without a weapon is rarely considered deadly force

Trayvon was on top, and was bashing away. If you stop when you win, you won't kill someone with your bare hands. If you keep right on going after winning, you quite likely will.

So regardless of whether Trayvon sought to interfere with Zimmerman's gun, Zimmerman would reasonably fear death.

 
At 2:43 PM, July 15, 2013, OpenID 20c38902-d3b5-11e2-847b-000bcdcb2996 said...

Max said...
> Following people around in the night is not normal law-abiding behavior. It was reasonable for Martin to believe that Zimmerman meant to do him harm.

This principle is only applied to whites following black criminals. When black criminals follow peaceful law abiding whites, no one dares suggest that there is any ground for the white to attack the black man.

Indeed, when Gates followed a police officer into the street screaming abuse at him, the exact same people who deemed it improper for Zimmerman to profile a young black man in a place where young black men, and only young black men, had repeatedly committed criminal acts, deemed it quite improper for Gates to be arrested.

 
At 5:56 PM, July 15, 2013, Blogger Joseph Miller said...

Patrick,

Why so low a probability? The evidence that you're unaware of may just as easily corroborate Zimmerman's story as contradict it. As far as I know, there's no evidence that contradicts GZ's story.

I'd give it a 99% chance based on how much I know, how much I expect I don't know, the media's obvious selective reporting, and the jury's decision.

 
At 7:13 PM, July 15, 2013, Anonymous Patrick said...

Joseph,

I was trying to be conservative in my estimate by only giving a floor, but I doubt my actual number could be above 90% right now. Basically, everything I've heard about this case is at best second-hand over the internet, and I am wary of assigning too much probability to such evidence. I haven't watched the witnesses speak or seen the physical evidence with my own eyes.

But even if I set that aside and calculated my estimate based off the assumption that all the evidence has been reported to me faithfully, I don't understand how I could achieve the 99% confidence you claim to have. This would require, among other things, that I be better than 99% certain that Martin attacked Zimmerman.

But if it were Martin on trial for assault, and this were the only evidence against him, I would hesitate to convict him. Since there are no eyewitnesses in the case, I think reasonable doubt would remain about Martin's guilt. Remember, Zimmerman has never testified under oath in the face of cross examination. It is conceivable to me, albeit very unlikely, that a cross examination would turn up evidence against Zimmerman. I think that possibility, as well as the many other ones still not foreclosed, warrants a greater than 1% margin of doubt.

 
At 7:27 PM, July 15, 2013, Blogger Will McLean said...

I would agree that the best evidence was that Martin was on top when he was shot. Zimmerman's claim that his head was on concrete at the time is contradicted by the non-Z witness who thought Martin was on top, the position of M's body post-mortem, and the position of Z's spent shell casing.

 
At 7:38 PM, July 15, 2013, Blogger Will McLean said...

Here's the thing about Zimmerman's testimony. He isn't just unreliable, but every single time there's another witness, Zimmerman's testimony is the one that most favors Zimmerman.

 
At 8:26 PM, July 15, 2013, Anonymous Patrick said...

Will,

You state, "but every single time there's another witness, Zimmerman's testimony is the one that most favors Zimmerman." There's a problem with thinking this way: that's exactly what you'd expect to see in a world where Zimmerman's innocent.

All the witnesses except Zimmerman were unreliable, simply because it was dark and they weren't nearby. Each witness's testimony boils down to something like: "I saw two people fighting, one atop the other. It was too dark to make out their faces. One of them was screaming for help. Then I heard a gunshot."

This testimony does not particularly favor Zimmerman simply because it doesn't tell us much. So Zimmerman's testimony being more favorable is exactly what you'd expect if Zimmerman is innocent.

 
At 8:53 PM, July 15, 2013, OpenID 20c38902-d3b5-11e2-847b-000bcdcb2996 said...

Will McLean said...

> I would agree that the best evidence was that Martin was on top when he was shot. Zimmerman's claim that his head was on concrete at the time is contradicted by the non-Z witness who thought Martin was on top

That witness correctly observed that the bigger man was on top and was pounding the smaller man's head into the concrete while the smaller man screamed for help.

Due to drastically photoshopped images depicting Trayvon as nine years, old, half european, and half female, she subsequently thought that Zimmerman was the bigger man.

Since the bigger man was in fact Trayvon, her testimony confirms Trayvon on top pounding Zimmerman's head onto the concrete.

 
At 9:40 PM, July 15, 2013, OpenID 20c38902-d3b5-11e2-847b-000bcdcb2996 said...

Patrick said...
> But if it were Martin on trial for assault, and this were the only evidence against him, I would hesitate to convict him.

I find it very hard to believe you would hesitate to convict him if white.

It is not just one man's word against another's. The physical evidence shows that Martin approached Zimmerman, the phone call shows that he approached Zimmerman with aggressive intent, and the forensic evidence shows that Martin was on top pounding away.

Plus, Zimmerman has no motive or past form for bad behavior, while Trayvon does.

 
At 11:48 PM, July 15, 2013, Anonymous Patrick said...

20c38902-d3b5-11e2-847b-000bcdcb2996,

If it were Martin on trial, I doubt I could convict based the evidence I would see. It's not a case of one man's word against another's. Zimmerman has never testified. If Zimmerman didn't testify in a hypothetical trial of Martin, then almost none of Zimmerman's statements could come in (they'd be hearsay).

Without Zimmerman's statements, the evidence is very sparse. We know Zimmerman called the non-emergency number. We know there was a fight. We know Zimmerman was injured. But that's about it. Without Zimmerman's testimony, we don't know who threw the first punch.

In a real trial of Martin, I'd expect Zimmerman to testify, and I'd expect my verdict to depend on what he said. If he took the fifth in such a trial (and he plausibly could), then I'd have some serious doubts as to the case against Martin.

 
At 1:24 AM, July 16, 2013, OpenID 20c38902-d3b5-11e2-847b-000bcdcb2996 said...

Patrick said:
> Without Zimmerman's statements, the evidence is very sparse. We know Zimmerman called the non-emergency number. We know there was a fight. We know Zimmerman was injured. But that's about it.

Without Zimmerman's statements, we also know that Trayvon approached Zimmerman with aggressive intent, that Zimmerman did not approach Trayvon, that Trayvon was on top pounding Zimmerman's head into the concrete, that Trayvon was preventing Zimmerman from getting away, that Zimmerman was screaming for help.

Pretty much everyone who argues against Zimmerman implicitly admits this by arguing that it was insanely aggressive, threatening, and hostile, for a supposedly white man to keep an eye on young black man who was behaving in a strange and suspicious manner - which is to say, everyone who argues against Zimmerman, implicitly argues Trayvon was justified in attacking Zimmmerman, thereby implicitly admitting he knows what he denies knowing, believes what he claims to disbelieve: that Trayvon attacked Zimmerman.

He implicitly argues that blacks are justified in attacking whites, that blacks are entitled to attack whites and whites are not entitled to defend themselves.

 
At 9:35 AM, July 16, 2013, Blogger Dave Hamilton said...

Seems some of your commenters are assuming that Zimmerman continued to follow him after he was instructed not too. I don't know what happened but the evidence suggest (including the not tampered with 911 tape) that Zimmerman's story was credible. We all can make wild speculations about what happened. I have my own which I would wager on if there was someway to prove the theory, which there is not. The best question I have heard ask is who is it that those protesting are mad at?

 
At 2:40 PM, July 16, 2013, Blogger Tracy Coyle said...

What is interesting is your complete disregard of the word of the one person involved that told his story: Zimmerman. Given you are willing to assume Zimmerman lied, despite evidence that supported his account, suggests that you made a decision about his guilt - only you want to appear to be agnostic about it.

 
At 4:28 PM, July 16, 2013, Blogger Jack Miller said...

David,
Well said. I think there are many more rational people, such as you, out there, who are generally saying little: the jury spoke the trial is over, move on. However, the passionate crowd with extreme views are enjoying the opportunity to rant. Many of these folk could care less about the evidence. Some of those who do care about the evidence are enjoying the opportunity to re-rant.

 
At 10:01 PM, July 16, 2013, Blogger Milhouse said...

David:
Since that could have happened, comments that depend on the confident assumption that Zimmerman's story is true are unjustified, just like comments that depend on the opposite assumption.

What you're omitting is that Zimmerman stands as a person whose honesty has not been impeached, and who therefore deserves to be treated as a reliable witness. Sure, he might be lying, but we owe it to him not to assume that without some definite reason. Mere skepticism for its own sake is inappropriate. Since his story is plausible and there is no credible evidence that contradicts it, we have to take him at his word.

By the way, if you don't want to sit through the entire video of the trial, a very thorough and informative day-by-day account by a reputable writer is webbed here

 
At 10:03 PM, July 16, 2013, Blogger Milhouse said...

K Black:
Deadly force used in response to non-deadly force is only an "imperfect" defense: it is sufficient to reduce a murder charge to manslaughter, not as a full defense (i.e. it is a partial excuse, not a full justification).

That is not true. Not in any state in the USA, or (as far as I know) anywhere else. Where did you get this idea?

In every jurisdiction I've ever heard of, but certainly in every USA jurisdiction, deadly force may be used by someone who is in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm. The beating Zimmerman was taking is more than sufficient for that. In many places (including Florida) it may also be used when one is in reasonable fear of being the victim of a felony. Again, the beating is more than sufficient.


Attack without a weapon is rarely considered deadly force

Again, not true.

(especially where the only deadly weapon involved was at all times in the possession of the defendant)

Irrelevant, and illogical. How can its presence change a deadly danger to a

Furthermore, while the burden is on the prosecution to prove the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden is on the defense to establish the elements of an affirmative defense

Again, not true. In 49 states out of 50, if the defense claims self-defense, the burden is on the prosecution to disprove beyond reasonable doubt. Only in Ohio does the defense have the burden of proving, on the preponderance of the evidence, that it was self-defense. I don't know what the situation is in other countries.

easonable minds can differ as to whether the defense met their burden.

The defense had no burden. The judge made a reversible error in not dismissing the case as soon as the prosecution rested. Before the defense said one word, no reasonable jury could possibly have found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

Max:

Following people around in the night is not normal law-abiding behavior.

That's bulldust. Zimmerman had at least as much right to follow Martin as Martin had to be wandering around people's houses, off the public walkway, in the rain, giving the appearance to any reasonable observer of being a burglar or up to some other mischief. And that's even on the unproven assumption that he continued following Martin after the dispatcher advised him that this was unnecessary. He says he didn't, and there's no reason to doubt his word, but even if we assume he's lying about that he's still 100% in the right.

That said, I don't see a problem with any neighbor of mine keeping an eye out for suspicious people.

Exactly. It's what good neighbours do for each other, and if Martin had been on the up and up he'd have expected and accepted that, and explained himself to the man instead of punching him. Or, if he was afraid, he'd simply have gone straight home as soon as he saw Zimmerman. He had plenty of time to do that. The fact that he was still outdoors when the fight started is enough to prove that he was not afraid of Z.

Rex Little:
Leading up to the trial, most of the right-wing blog comments I saw said, in effect, "Zimmerman will be railroaded, because politics."

He was railroaded. The prosecution lied constantly, and the judge did all she could to help them. That the jury didn't buy it doesn't change that. Nobody can predict what a jury will do.

 
At 10:03 PM, July 16, 2013, Blogger Milhouse said...

Will McLean:

Zimmerman's claim that his head was on concrete at the time is contradicted by the non-Z witness who thought Martin was on top, the position of M's body post-mortem, and the position of Z's spent shell casing.

The witness who thought Martin was on top admitted on cross examination that what she really meant was that the bigger of the two was on top, and she had assumed, based on the photos of Martin as a child, that he was smaller than Zimmerman. So her testimony really means Martin was indeed on top. The position of the body means nothing because it was moved. Z moved it when he rolled him over, and then the EMTs moved it again. The evidence at trial showed that the crime scene procedure was sloppy.

Zimmerman's testimony is the one that most favors Zimmerman.

Well, duh. That's exactly what one would expect of an honest witness.

Patrick:
In a real trial of Martin, I'd expect Zimmerman to testify

Yes, if he was alive and well enough to do so.

If he took the fifth in such a trial (and he plausibly could), then I'd have some serious doubts as to the case against Martin.

Well, yes, of course. Ditto if he were to suddenly be revealed as a fugitive from a series of murder charges in Peru. But without any grounds for supposing that he would do so I don't think that's a reasonable caveat to make.

 
At 10:07 PM, July 16, 2013, Blogger Milhouse said...

Oops, something in my response to K Black got cut off. Here that part is again:

Attack without a weapon is rarely considered deadly force (especially where the only deadly weapon involved was at all times in the possession of the defendant)

Irrelevant, and illogical. How can the weapon's presence change a deadly danger to a non-deadly one, unless and until he uses it?

In any case, Martin had deadly weapons: his fists, and the concrete. Those are enough to kill a person.

 
At 11:00 PM, July 16, 2013, Blogger K. Black said...

Burden: I was wrong about the burden, which is initially on the defense to make a prima facie showing, and then is placed on the prosecution: “When the defense of self-defense is asserted, a defendant has the burden of producing enough evidence to establish a prima facie case demonstrating the justifiable use of force… Once a defendant makes a prima facie showing of self-defense, the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense.” Fields v. State, 988 So. 2d 1185, 1188 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2008)

Deadly Force: "a person's hands and feet, at least in the absence of special training, are not deadly weapons." Lee v. State, 100 So. 3d 1183, 1185 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2012). Combined with the concrete, maybe that rises to the level of deadly weapon (can’t find a case on point).

Self-Defense and Manslaughter in FL: Though Florida does not have a statutory provision on imperfect self-defense (Hill v. State, 979 So. 2d 1134, 1135 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2008)), Section 776.012, Florida Statutes (1997), permits the use of deadly force against another, “only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.” Hernandez v. State, 842 So. 2d 1049, 1051 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2003). In Florida, “the crime of manslaughter encompasses those situations in which the defendant uses excessive force to defend himself.” Roberts v. State, 425 So. 2d 70, 71 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1982).

 
At 10:27 AM, July 17, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...

Millhouse write:
"What you're omitting is that Zimmerman stands as a person whose honesty has not been impeached, and who therefore deserves to be treated as a reliable witness."

I disagree. Even with no evidence against his honesty, the fact that it is very much in his interest to tell the story he tells is a reason not to be confident it is true.

 
At 11:35 AM, July 17, 2013, Blogger Jim Oliver said...

IMHO it would be nice if the press would say that "he was not found guilty" rather than saying "he was found not guilty".

I am glad that I was not on the jury. Very difficult case.

 
At 3:35 PM, July 17, 2013, Blogger Milhouse said...

K Black, you are prevaricating. The case that you cite, Lee v State, is not about whether hands and feet are actually weapons that can kill, but whether the statute that provides for sentence enhancements if a "deadly weapon" is used in the commission of a crime, had hands and feet in mind. Obviously it didn't, since just about every crime involves someone's hands or feet in some way! That is of no relevance to the topic for which you cited it, which is your claim that a claim of self-defense requires the other party to have a deadly weapon. Even if you were correct (and you're not), there is no statute that uses the term, so the only thing you could possibly mean by it is a weapon that can cause death, and hands are certainly enough for that.

On "imperfect self-defense", you have completely changed your position without acknowledging it. Your claim was: "Deadly force used in response to non-deadly force is only an 'imperfect' defense". That is and remains bulldust. As you yourself wrote just now, self-defense merely requires that the person "reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm". That is not an imperfect defense, it is an absolutely perfect defense, even in the complete absence of deadly force by the attacker (which was not the case here). You also omitted the second justification for self-defense, which applies even in the absence of even a fear of great bodily harm: deadly force may also be used to prevent a felony, which beating certainly is.

 
At 3:39 PM, July 17, 2013, Blogger Milhouse said...

Even with no evidence against his honesty, the fact that it is very much in his interest to tell the story he tells is a reason not to be confident it is true.

I wouldn't necessarily bet $1M that it was true, but don't you agree that in a civil society we owe each other the courtesy of the presumption that we are honest people, unless and until we have reason to suppose otherwise? In other words, whatever the objective truth, don't we owe it to Zimmerman to act as if we were confident he told the truth, unless we have some reason not to? The same principle that creates the presumption of innocence in a trial ought to generate a rebuttable presumption of goodwill in society at large.

 
At 5:20 PM, July 17, 2013, Blogger Will McLean said...

Milhouse:

Zimmerman's honesty was impeached when he was found to lie during his bail hearing, and because his different accounts of what happened offered at different times did not agree with each other.

 
At 5:35 PM, July 17, 2013, Blogger Gordon said...

Milhouse writes: "What you're omitting is that Zimmerman stands as a person whose honesty has not been impeached, and who therefore deserves to be treated as a reliable witness."

Zimmerman did not take the stand; he was not a witness, reliable or otherwise.

 
At 6:20 PM, July 17, 2013, Anonymous Patrick said...

Milhouse writes: "don't we owe it to Zimmerman to act as if we were confident he told the truth, unless we have some reason not to?"

There are at least two problems with that kind of thinking. the first is that there is no question of owing Zimmerman anything: we only care about getting the *right answer.* If that means assigning a low prior probability of Zimmerman telling the truth, then so be it. Trusting him more (or less) than the optimal amount will lead us to be predictably wrong in our conclusions.

The second problem is that we do have some reasons not to trust him. Even setting aside what Will McLean pointed out about the bail hearing, any statements Zimmerman makes affect the outcome of his case. He knows this to be true, so this can color his testimony. In effect, you're asking us to trust a biased witness as much as a disinterested one.

This is one of the reasons why it is important to place higher weight in statements made in court than out of it. If Zimmerman were to testify and face cross-examination, the prosecutor would have the chance to confront him over any inconsistencies or ambiguities. If his testimony stood up to a thorough cross-examination, then we should trust it more, since someone has made an honest effort to discredit him and failed to do so.

 
At 3:43 PM, July 18, 2013, Blogger Will McLean said...

The defense's own animation and the position of Martin's body indicates that while Zimmerman's head may have been on the concrete earlier in the fight, by the time he shot Martin he was entirely on the grass.

 
At 7:04 AM, July 19, 2013, Blogger Milhouse said...

Zimmerman's honesty was impeached when he was found to lie during his bail hearing,

Really? What lie was that?

and because his different accounts of what happened offered at different times did not agree with each other.

In what significant way did they differ, more than would be expected of anybody?

while Zimmerman's head may have been on the concrete earlier in the fight, by the time he shot Martin he was entirely on the grass.

How is that relevant?

Milhouse writes: "What you're omitting is that Zimmerman stands as a person whose honesty has not been impeached, and who therefore deserves to be treated as a reliable witness."

Zimmerman did not take the stand; he was not a witness, reliable or otherwise.


He wasn't a witness at the trial, but he is a witness to us, and I think that like anybody he deserves the assumption of honesty until there is some specific reason to suspect him of lying.

 
At 1:55 AM, July 22, 2013, Blogger TheVidra said...

I also made the same points as Dr. Friedman in my conversations with people: none of us really know what happened, except that there was most likely a fight followed by a shooting. Unfortunately, there were enough doubt and too many unknowns to say George Zimmerman was guilty of manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt.

However, I think many decent people began sympathizing with George Zimmerman's story (perhaps unjustly so, not knowing his character and the full details of that tragic night) after the blatant media lies against him, the unwarranted involvement of the President and Justice Department in this fuzzy case, and the disgusting way the prosecution and district attorney presented themselves, in a clear attempt to sacrifice a possibly innocent man for political points.

I think a large part of America was disgusted by the sheer race-baiting and started sympathizing with Zimmerman as a backlash against the evil (on one hand) of those seeking to profit from this tragedy, and the stupidity (on the other hand) of those with a chip on their shoulder who were only too glad to find another reason to feel persecuted.

 
At 11:54 AM, July 23, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...

"and I think that like anybody he deserves the assumption of honesty until there is some specific reason to suspect him of lying."

There is a specific reason to suspect him of lying--the fact that he was telling a story that it was in his interest to tell, whether or not it was true.

 
At 10:43 AM, July 30, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

During the interrogation of Zimmerman at the police station that night, Detective Chris Serino, who led the homicide investigation, told Zimmerman that someone had caught the entire incident on video. The detective was bluffing, but Zimmerman didn't know that. The detective said Zimmerman's reaction was "Thank God, I was hoping somebody would videotape it."

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/07/01/19238721-jury-hears-tapes-of-zimmermans-first-accounts-to-investigators-of-confrontation-with-martin?lite

Zimmerman also passed a lie detector test.

http://www.wjla.com/articles/2012/06/george-zimmerman-told-truth-about-trayvon-martin-shooting-documents-state-77322.html

I think it is reasonable to conclude he is telling the truth despite the fact that his story would also set him free.

 
At 12:19 AM, August 03, 2013, Blogger Jonathan said...

I agree with the original post: that you can't find someone guilty when no-one really knows what happened.

However, I also agree with Max that Zimmerman "created the dangerous circumstances that led to Martin's killing." If he had reported his suspicions to the police and then stayed in his car or gone home, there would have been no incident and no death.

Zimmerman has not been found guilty, but he has been through all the trouble of a major trial, accusations of racism, etc.; and I think it's his own fault for trying to play at being an amateur policeman (and shooting someone to death while doing so).

During my life, I've quite often gone for walks around the neighbourhood, for exercise and a change of scene. Once, while doing this long ago, I was stopped by a uniformed policeman and questioned briefly and politely. I was surprised, but I don't really mind that. I would strongly object to being followed around by some amateur policeman whom I might easily mistake for a dangerous criminal.

A couple of people here have suggested that Zimmerman should be assumed to be telling the truth. Oh, really? If you assume that an accused man is telling the truth, there's no need for a trial at all. You just ask him, "Are you guilty or not?" and he tells you. That saves a whole lot of time and money!

An accused man should not be found guilty without proof; but he should never be assumed to be telling the truth. The idea is ludicrous.

 

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