A legal expert who finds Florida's self-defense law "shocking" said she was not surprised by George Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
"A 17-year-old boy is dead," said Elizabeth Megale, associate professor at Savannah Law School. "There shouldn't be a legal justification for it, but Florida does in fact have one. And the jury did what it was required to do under the law. I do think it was a lawful verdict."
Two days after the Zimmerman verdict was reached, Megale told Kerri Miller on The Daily Circuit that the Florida statute that protected Zimmerman is "quite disturbing" and unique among state self-defense laws.
"Florida has the broadest self-defense statute of any of the states, even those that are stand-your-ground states," she said. "Florida's law is the most expansive. It requires a subjective fear, meaning the individual person has to feel fear, even if that fear is not one that would typically be felt by another person, or a 'reasonable man.' The standard in Florida is a subjective fear, not that of a reasonable man. That's pretty unusual."
Megale explained that the Florida law protects a person using deadly force even once the immediate danger has passed. The justification of subjective fear is so broad, she said, that it would have applied equally to Trayvon Martin as to Zimmerman — a fact she called an "interesting paradox."
"If Trayvon Martin had been successful in getting the gun away from George Zimmerman and had shot George Zimmerman," she said, "he would also have been justified in killing George Zimmerman and would have been eligible to claim self-defense. Under Florida's statutory scheme, they both were entitled to stand their ground. And that's why one of them died."
Though the details of Zimmerman's confrontation with Martin remain in dispute, Megale suggested that they might not have mattered much, because Florida law can protect the person who starts a fight as much as the person who is the initial victim.
"Both people involved in a confrontation would have the same right," she said. "The primary aggressor, as well as the person who has maybe been the initial victim.
"If someone starts a fight, once the other person responds and stands his ground, then the person who initially started the fight can claim that fear has been triggered, and that person has a right to stand his ground. So even an initial aggressor can claim self-defense."
In fact, she said, in Florida, someone might be able to claim self-defense after chasing a person down.
"Once that fear is triggered, it remains," she said. "The person in fear can chase the other person down, even shooting or stabbing someone in the back. There have been cases like that in Florida, where people have been stabbed in the back three or four blocks from the original incident, having been hunted down. And that has been found lawful use of force in Florida."
LEARN MORE ABOUT REACTIONS TO THE ZIMMERMAN VERDICT:
• Zimmerman's Acquittal Reverberates, Setting Off Protests and Talk of Race
Nonetheless, the reaction to the verdict on Saturday night — by a six-person, all-female panel, which included no black jurors — suggested that five years after this nation elected its first black president, racial relations remain polarized, particularly when it relates to the American justice system and the police. (New York Times)
Law and Justice and George Zimmerman
To me, on its most basic level, the startling Zimmerman verdict — and the case and trial that preceded it — is above all a blunt reminder of the limitations of our justice system. Criminal trials are not searches for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They never have been. Our rules of evidence and the Bill of Rights preclude it. Our trials are instead tests of only that limited evidence a judge declares fit to be shared with jurors, who in turn are then admonished daily, hourly even, not to look beyond the corners of what they've seen or heard in court. (Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic)
• Anger flows at acquittal of George Zimmerman in death of Trayvon Martin
One side saw a racially-biased criminal justice system that was slow to charge Zimmerman, and quick to side with a white man and take on faith that an unarmed black youth in a hoodie was a threat. The other saw in Zimmerman a law-abiding citizen trying to protect his neighborhood, and properly claiming his right to carry a weapon in self-defense. (Washington post)