Posts Tagged ‘Martin-Zimmerman case’

April 4 roundup

  • N.Y. Times editorial flays Stand Your Ground, but dodges its (non)-application to Martin/Zimmerman case; Washington Post blasts same law, doesn’t seem to realize Florida homicide rate has gone down not up; chronology as of Sunday’s evidence [Frances Robles, Miami Herald] On the disputed facts of the case, it would be nice if NYT corrected its misreporting [Tom Maguire, more, yet more]
  • Lawprof Michael Dorf vs. Jeffrey Toobin on president’s power not to enforce a statute [New Yorker letter]
  • Israeli law bans underweight models [AP/Houston Chronicle]
  • Is price-fixing OK? Depends on whether the government is helping arrange it [Mark Perry]
  • Minnesota man arrested, jailed for neglecting to put siding on his house [KSTP via Alkon]
  • Once lionized in press, former Ohio AG Dann now fights suspension of law license [Sue Reisinger, Corp Counsel, earlier]
  • How California is that? “Killer got $30,000 in unemployment while in jail, officials say” [LAT]

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.

Krugman, Brady, and Stand Your Ground laws

I mostly ignore the frothings of Paul Krugman in the New York Times, but his column today pursues a logic that’s insane even for him: in an attack on the right-of-center American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), he proposes that Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws tie into a trend of “growing incarceration” intended to line the coffers of private prison contractors. Earth to Krugman: SYG laws bolster criminal defendants’ rights, and your colleagues at the Times have been complaining that as a result it’s too hard for prosecutors to send people to prison for long terms. Next time, could you stop and think before hitting the send button?

In the opinion piece I’m finishing up, I expect to argue that as more facts emerge about the Feb. 26 Martin/Zimmerman confrontation, the 2005 changes to Florida self-defense law known as Stand Your Ground are looking less and less likely to control the legal outcome of the case. Along those lines, I notice in Friday’s Washington Post what I read as a straw in the wind:

“We’ve never thought by itself that the law is the main issue,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “What we think is the main issue is the mentality that that law provides.”

Hmm. So despite hundreds of press assertions to the contrary in the past week, the actual content of the Florida law (as opposed to its supposed furtherance of a vague “mentality”) doesn’t turn out to be the main issue after all. Earlier here and here (& Reason).

Don’t miss related analysis from Eugene Volokh on the scope of the self-defense justification in American criminal law and the standards for probable cause in arresting someone who claims that justification. And Jennifer Rubin weighs in at Washington Post “Right Turn” (quoting me). More: Scott Greenfield, Steve Chapman.

Stand Your Ground laws, cont’d

A media organization has asked me to take a closer look at the controversy over Florida’s Stand Your Ground (SYG) law, and I’ll be working on that over the next day or two. In the mean time, here are a few links you might want to check out if you’re following the controversy (earlier):

  • Florida’s law on justifiable use of force, including the 2005 SYG changes, is here. As usual, there is no substitute for reading the statute if you want to know how it works. Links to other state SYG laws are here.
  • Michael Mannheimer at PrawfsBlawg points out that some of the law’s reputed new burdens on prosecutors aren’t in fact new:

    First, some have pointed out that, in Florida, the prosecution has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense, assuming the defendant has adduced sufficient evidence to present a jury question. But this is true in virtually every State: last I checked, only Ohio and South Carolina require a defendant to shoulder the burden of persuasion on self-defense. Some have pointed out that when a defendant claims self-defense in a homicide prosecution, the State has lost its best witness and the jury therefore hears only one side of the story. But this is true in any homicide case. …

    So what are we left with that distinguishes Florida’s law? Well, obviously there is the “stand your ground” provision which eliminates the common-law duty to retreat. But the law in America has always been ambivalent about the duty to retreat, with about half the States at any given time recognizing the duty to retreat and about half abrogating it. This is not a new development. Moreover, even where there is no duty to retreat, it is still a requirement that the defendant reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to prevent the imminent use of deadly physical force. And even in a retreat jurisdiction, the prosecution generally must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew he could retreat with complete safety. So, in practice, there is not a whole lot of daylight between retreat and no-retreat jurisdictions. …

  • But Mannheimer also points to a more significant difference in the 2005 law, namely that the self-defense justification is couched as an immunity rather than as a defense to be raised at trial. This distinction does accord a significant advantage to some defendants, especially where prosecutors hold a factually weak hand at the outset. “Meg” from Cambridge, among the few constructive voices amid the NYT comments section’s baying mob, makes a similar point here.
  • And a number of commentators raise plausible objections to details of the SYG legislation which do not appear relevant to whether George Zimmerman can escape prosecution for shooting Trayvon Martin. Thus Adam Winkler questions whether immunity should extend to situations where the user of deadly force acted in reasonable fear of lethal danger or forcible felony aimed at some third person other than himself (it would appear Zimmerman asserted danger-to-himself, not danger-to-third-parties, at the police station). And Anthony Sebok, writing at the time of the law’s passage, sharply criticizes the law’s expansion of immunity in home and car scenarios, again not at issue in the Martin case.

All of which is by way of clearing the decks for a closer examination of the provisions of SYG that do relate to Zimmerman’s claim of immunity, which will have to wait for a later post.

Don’t rush to repeal “Stand Your Ground” laws

The New York Times invited me to participate in a “Room for Debate” discussion of Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law, and my contribution is here. I elaborate on some of the issues at stake — including the failure of Florida’s violent crime rate to rise as predicted under the law — in this Cato post (& welcome Instapundit, Reihan Salam/NRO, Alex Adrianson/Insider Online, Aaron Worthing, David Codrea readers).