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Justifiable Use of Deadly Force in Florida

Blind Justice

 

In the Trayvon Martin case, there are actually two separate questions of “justifiable use of force”. First in time is Trayvon’s alleged assault on George Zimmerman, as evidenced by Mr. Zimmerman’s bloody (some reports say broken) nose, laceration to the back of the head, damp shirt and grass clippings on the back of the shirt. The second is George Zimmerman’s fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Justifiable Use Of Force” is addressed in Chapter 776 of Title XLVI (Crimes) of the Florida Statutes. The sections we are concerned with are sections 776.012 Use of force in defense of person and 776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.

Trayvon’s Alleged Assault on Zimmerman

The unfortunate circumstance with the fight between Trayvon and Zimmerman is that there are apparently no witnesses to their confrontation, leaving only Mr. Zimmerman’s statement. With the end result of the confrontation, Mr. Zimmerman’s statement should be considered suspect.

Residents of the condominium complex have come forward to describe Mr. Zimmerman’s aggressive and intrusive tactics in the execution of his duties as a Neighborhood Watch captain. According to the Neighborhood Watch Manual, found on USAonwatch.org, the official website of the national Neighborhood Watch Program of the National Sheriff’s Association, as a member of a Citizen Patrol Mr. Zimmerman should have adhered to these rules:

“Citizen Patrols

Patrol members should be trained by law enforcement. It should be emphasized to members that they do not possess police powers and they shall not carry weapons or pursue vehicles. They should also be cautioned to alert police or deputies when encountering strange activity. Members should never confront suspicious persons who could be armed and dangerous.”

On page 22 of the Manual, it reiterates:

“REMEMBER:

Community members only serve as the extra “eyes and ears” of law enforcement. They should report their observations of suspicious activities to law enforcement; however, citizens should never try to take action on those observations. Trained law enforcement should be the only ones ever to take action based on observations of suspicious activities.”

[phrases in bold italics are the author’s emphasis]

That Neighborhood Watch patrols are only supposed to observe and report is a well-known fact; it may be assumed that Trayvon Martin was aware of this. After Mr. Zimmerman left his vehicle, after calling in his report, he has said he approached Trayvon to talk with him. Even if he identified himself as a Neighborhood Watch member, Trayvon would have had no reason to believe him, as NW patrols are not supposed to confront anyone. If Mr. Zimmerman demanded that Trayvon give an accounting of himself, the young man had no reason to feel compelled to answer such questioning. If Mr. Zimmerman then gave any indication that he was trying to obstruct Trayvon from continuing on his way home, such as raising a hand or his voice, Trayvon would have been justified in feeling himself threatened, and under Florida law had a right to defend himself. Hence, the punch (or several punches) delivered to Zimmerman’s face.

The applicable parts of the Florida statutes are these:

776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force.

776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force,…

Zimmerman’s Fatal Shooting of Trayvon Martin

So we are at the point in our presumed altercation when Trayvon Martin has put George Zimmerman on the ground, with a bleeding/broken nose. Trayvon is probably standing over him, challenging him, possibly talking trash. Zimmerman was heard by police officers shouting that he yelled for help, but no one came out of the adjoining buildings to help him. Several of the residents did, however, call 911. Now remember, all Trayvon is armed with are his fists.

Zimmerman ends the fight by pulling out a 9mm handgun and shooting Trayvon once in the chest.

Mr. Zimmerman has told the police that he felt threatened and that is why he fired. The question that needs to be asked by the state’s attorney and the possible grand jury in the case is if it was reasonable for Mr. Zimmerman to believe his life was in jeopardy or that Trayvon was about to or had just committed a felony if he did not shoot the teenager.

The applicable parts of the Florida statutes are these:

776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or

(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.

776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.

(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and

(b) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.

(2) The presumption set forth in subsection (1) does not apply if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person; or

 (5) As used in this section, the term:

 (b) “Residence” means a dwelling in which a person resides either temporarily or permanently or is visiting as an invited guest.

Trayvon was an invited guest in the community. He had visited there before. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up because it was raining. All he was doing was walking home, by himself, at 7:15 in the evening. There are no indications that Zimmerman had any reason to believe that Trayvon was about to commit a felony B&E or a kidnapping, so that means he had to reasonably believe that such force was necessary “to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself”.

 

Considering that not only was Zimmerman armed when Trayvon was not, he also outweighed the teenager by close to 100 lbs., I find that belief rather unreasonable… and indefensible.

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2 Responses to Justifiable Use of Deadly Force in Florida

  1. Steve Klingaman

    March 22, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Ardent, you are mistaken here. This section of the law does apply to interactions outside of the home. More context can be found here: http://www.propublica.org/article/the-23-states-that-have-sweeping-self-defense-laws-just-like-floridas

    Pat, great piece, an astute reading of the whole legal situation. I quoted you with attribution at my blog on Open Salon.

  2. Ardent Hollingsworth

    March 18, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    I have read the statute. It only pertains to home protection. I just don’t read it as applying to anything outside of the home (residence). Trayvon was not attempting to enter the residence of Zimmerman, so stand-your-ground doesn’t apply. Outside of the home, Zimmerman still had a duty-to-retreat.