Will Stand Your Ground change the outcome of the Martin/Zimmerman case?

The Orlando Sentinel asked me to analyze how Florida’s Stand Your Ground law affects the Trayvon Martin shooting case. I conclude that in most likely scenarios, the law will make no difference one way or the other on George Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence, though it does help him on some points of procedure. Jacob Sullum has related thoughts at Reason (more at Cato).

The other piece in the point-counterpoint is from Florida prosecutor Buddy Rogers who emphasizes that claims of justifiable homicide have risen sharply (from 12 to 33 a year), even if homicides per capita themselves have not. I took a look at the crime numbers in this Cato post.

To answer a question, it was the Sentinel editors who elected to describe the antagonists in the Sanford confrontation by way of a given name for one (“Trayvon”) but a surname for the other (“Zimmerman”). My own inclination is to use a surname for both.

Michael Mannheimer has an important post on the role of “provocation” in the Martin/Zimmerman case at PrawfsBlawg. Earlier here, here, and here.

P.S. David Kopel similarly argues that Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence (depending on which version of events is accepted) is no different in Florida from what it would be under the law of New York or any other state; he also defends the rationale for Florida’s use of an immunity, which he argues “does not change the law, but… apparently is effective at reminding law enforcement officers of the standard they are required to obey” under court precedents forbidding arrest without probable cause.


  • Martin was a juvenile. That explains the difference in use of names.

  • Maybe they thought his name was Martin Trayvon.

  • (Whether they should have worked harder to develop evidence of probable cause is a separate question.) It is indeed, and one I would like to see addressed.

    From recent stories about Florida cops, it isn’t any work at all to come up with probable cause. Just having dark skin seems to trigger the ‘probable cause’ in the cop’s eyes which courts later dismiss as ‘no probable cause’.

    And would it be wrong of me to suggest that the Sentinel’s literary style might lead one to suspect that is used simply because we all ‘know’ what color a Trayvon and a Zimmerman are whereas a Martin and a George might not let us know this important fact?

  • There’s probably something to that Jerry, except “Zimmerman” gives an inaccurate (but useful from the standpoint of an activist) mental image of the accused’s (is he the accused yet?) skin color (he’s hispanic, or, as the NY Times calls him, “white hispanic”).

    As things unfold, it seems more and more to me that this will turn on when Martin became justified in using violence to defend himself. Does he have to wait for Zimmerman to strike first? If he hit too soon, Zimmerman gets off. If he waited long enough, Zimmerman goes to jail.

  • The Buddy Jacobs piece is remarkably weak. He assumes that the fact that justifiable homicides went up after the revision to the statute is necessarily sinister – that is, people who should have been convicted were acquitted. But it could just as easily reflect that people who would have been unjustly convicted before the change were instead properly acquitted. His speculation that a case he prosecuted might turn out differently today is laughable.

  • Does being Jewish or having a Jewish or Jewish-sounding surname like Zimmerman seem to disqualify one from membership in the “oppressed” Hispanic “race”?

    The question first occurred to me when Sonia Sotomayor was nominated as the “first Hispanic” justice on SCOTUS. What was Benjamin Cardozo? Chopped liver??

    Just askin’.

  • I agree that the best guess for using the kid’s first name is that, legally, he was still a kid.

    That theory should be quite easy to prove/disprove by looking at other articles with kids and seeing how they were referred to.

  • I have to go with Jerry on this one. I have to wonder if Martin was White would this incident even make the news, unless of course Zimmerman had been arrested.

  • […] at trial (on which see my Cato colleague Tim Lynch’s writing here and here, as well as mine), Ann Althouse asks: “Why inject an inapplicable, controversial issue? To inflame passions? […]

  • […] about how the laws work. In the case of George Zimmerman, as legal commentator Walter Olson noted, Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law will “make no difference one way or another on George […]

  • […] even though ALEC had nothing to do with the passage of the Florida law, which probably will not even affect Zimmerman’s odds of being acquitted. (ALEC used Florida’s law as a model for other […]