Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Florida wild-West law gives freedom to Zimmerman

The reason George Zimmerman was recently acquitted for killing Trayvon Martin is the consequence of Florida law. In accordance with this state law, the jury instruction at Zimmerman’s trial stated, “A person is justified in using deadly force if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself.” This means that in Florida, if you have good reason to fear that someone is going to rob you or assault you, even if they are unarmed, you can shoot them dead and not be prosecuted.

In accordance with this law, the jury instruction went on to state, “If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in anyplace 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.” This is why he was acquitted.

As today’s editorial in The Boston Globe stated, “Zimmerman’s acquittal reflects a presumption that, in Florida, one can pick a fight with a stranger for entirely dubious reasons, and if that stranger seems to be gaining the upper hand — as Martin did, in Zimmerman’s account — it’s acceptable to pull out a gun and shoot.”

This kind of law is commonly referred to as “stand your ground law.” As stated by Curt Anderson in the March 22, 2012 Huffington Post, “Florida is among 21 states with a ‘Stand Your Ground Law,’ which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight." In other states, the law generally is that if you can safely escape from harm, you should do so, and if you cannot escape, you can only use as much force as is reasonably necessary to protect yourself or another. “Stand your ground law” is the law of the wild West that is not appropriate for civilized countries. Combine this law with the lack of gun regulation, and you have murders like that of Trayvon Martin where the murderer goes free--not because of racism in this case, but because of the law.

The only way “stand your ground” laws can be changed is by the state legislators or state courts in the states where such laws exist, or by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Like marriage, the law of self-defense is a matter for states. Such laws are most likely protected from federal oversight by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States [i.e., the federal government] by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

As with marriage and health care, the sanctity of your life still depends on the state in which you live. 

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