Anderson Cooper interviewed one of the jurors in the George Zimmeman case last night. The woman’s face was darkened so she could not be recognized. The interview of this juror was instructive. Lawyers and commentators can speculate about what the jury was thinking, but this woman who was part of the actual deliberation gave a first-hand account of the thought process of the jury. She explained that they had “no doubt that Zimmerman feared for his life.” That conclusion speaks volumes about the approach of the attorneys in the case. Based on her remarks, a few things seem uncontroverted:
1. Zimmerman’s decision to get out of the car was irrelevant to the jury.
2. Who landed the first blow was not significant.
3. The jury believed Zimmerman and Mr. Good when they explained that Martin was on top.
4. There was no focus during the evidence, or arguments, on how or why Zimmerman got his shot off. The state attorney simply argued that he could not have pulled his gun while on his back. No alternative explanation was provided. What happened immediately before the shot was fired, was never considered by the jury.
5. There was no discussion or concern for how the body ended face down, head away from the dog run. There was no discussion or even attempt to correlate the path of the bullet with the other evidence.
6. The jury didn’t even consider the fact that Zimmerman had a duty, under the law of self defense, to retreat if Martin was pulling away. I don’t even remember the state attorneys asking for an instruction to that effect.
7. Race didn’t factor into their discussions.
The sad thing to me is that in all the media coverage of the trial, of the witnesses, potential civil rights violations, possible corruption, failure of the medical examiner to collect and preserve evidence, considerations of racial profiling, and the Florida notion of self defense, we seem to have learned nothing as a result of this tragic experience. The “Stand Your Ground” law was originally the focus of consideration. The defense team wisely abandoned it because the police recording of Zimmerman’s phone call seemed to establish that Zimmerman was originally the aggressor. Stand Your Ground is not available for a defendant where the defendant is shown to be the aggressor.
It is the Stand Your Ground law that should be given great consideration as a result of this case. It was originally called the Castle Doctrine. That name derived from the notion that your home is your “Castle.” Many states have adopted the “castle doctrine” which presumes that if a person breaks into your house, you are allowed to shoot first and ask questions later. The notion that your safety and that of your family has been threatened when someone breaks into your house is undeniable. The problem is that some states like Florida have expanded that law to events that occur outside of a persons residence.
The problem with the Stand Your Ground law is that there is no assurance of establishing who is the aggressor. When a dead body is found inside your home, there isn’t a lot of concern about establishing who the aggressor was, or who felt threatened. However when the shooting occurs outside the home, the considerations are different. Even in states that adopted the Castle doctrine, once the intruder steps outside the house, the doctrine no longer applies. Self defense would still be available to the homeowner, but once the intruder steps outside the house, the presumption of a threat no longer applies.
In the Zimmerman case, George was the initial aggressor as we know from the 9-1-1 call recorded and played for the jury. However if that call had not been made, but the other facts had been the same, Zimmerman could have used the “Stand Your Ground” law and easily won. If there is any good that might come from this tragic event, it should be the realization that every state that has expanded the Castle Doctrine, and now has a “Stand Your Ground” law, should repeal that law immediately. The Zimmerman case is a perfect example of the difficulty inherent in recreating events leading up to a shooting when only one witness is available to testify.
Picture states stand you