Florida 'Stand Your Ground' Law Could Complicate Trayvon Martin Case

Florida’s 2005 “Stand Your Ground” law, which says a citizen doesn’t have to retreat before using deadly force against an attacker, could throw a legal wrinkle into the case of a neighborhood watch captain who shot to death an unarmed black teenager.

Police in the central Florida town of Sanford have said that 28-year-old George Zimmerman says he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense during a confrontation in a gated community. Police have described Zimmerman as white; his family says he is Hispanic and not racist.

Police did not arrest Zimmerman after the shooting, but State Attorney Norm Wolfinger announced Tuesday the case will go before a Seminole County grand jury.

Legal experts, gun-rights advocates and gun-control groups contacted by msnbc.com offered varying opinions on whether Zimmerman can avoid criminal charges under Stand Your Ground.

Richard Hornsby, an Orlando-based criminal defense attorney, says he thinks the grand jury is likely to indict Zimmerman for manslaughter, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Less likely is a more serious charge of second-degree murder, a crime that implies intent and that is punishable by up to life in prison, he said.

“This case isn’t even a close call to me. This is a case of a guy trying to be a vigilante,” Hornsby said. “It wasn’t like he was trying to avoid trouble. He brought a firearm to a fistfight.”

“My gut feeling he will ultimately be charged with some type of manslaughter charge,” agreed Philip Sweeting, retired deputy police chief for the Boca Raton Police Department and a law enforcement consultant who has testified in court cases as an expert in police shootings and use of force.

“My gut reaction was this was an accidental discharge,” Sweeting added. “If you put yourself in the shooter’s position and you’re wrestling with this kid and a gun goes off, what are you going to tell the cops?”

If indicted, Zimmerman can raise the Stand Your Ground defense under the 2005 law signed by Gov. Jeb Bush. That legislation, derisively called the “Shoot First” law by its critics, gives Floridians the right to use deadly force to defend themselves in public places without first trying to escape. The National Rifle Association lobbied hard for the bill, saying it would allow citizens to better protect themselves from violent crime.

Hornsby says the 2005 bill allows Zimmerman’s lawyers to argue to a judge – before any trial -- that the case should be dismissed on grounds he was permitted to defend himself. If the case isn’t dismissed, they could argue self-defense at trial.

Daniel Vice, senior attorney with the gun-control group Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, contends “Stand Your Ground,” combined with Florida laws allowing people to carry guns in public, have made it difficult to pursue criminal charges against people who shoot others and then say it was self-defense.

“All you have to say is that you reasonably believed you were threatened, and the only person who can dispute that is the person you have just killed,” Vice says.

"It's very hard to bring these types of cases because the 'Shoot First' law combined with public carrying of loaded guns protects people who engage someone and shoot to kill."

According to a 2010 review by the St. Petersburg Times, reports of justifiable homicide tripled after the law went into effect. It has been invoked in at least 93 cases with 65 deaths, used to excuse violence in deadly neighbor arguments, bar fights, road rage and even a gang shootout, the newspaper reported.

Gun-rights advocates say the facts to date are scarce and “Stand Your Ground” may or may not apply in this case.

According to transcripts of the 911 calls, a police dispatcher tells Zimmerman he doesn’t need to follow the teen, but Zimmerman apparently does anyway. So is he or the teen the one who feels threatened?

“The question again is whether he (Zimmerman) acted reasonably or not. At this point it doesn’t look good for him, but I don’t know what the heck happened and quite frankly no one else does either,” says Jon H. Gutmacher, an Orlando attorney, NRA-certified instructor and author of "Florida Firearms: Law, Use & Ownership."

“When you’re talking about law and whether things were legal and illegal, you can’t guess. You’re supposed to react to facts. The facts have been kept from the public and the press.”

Added Dave Workman, director of communications for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms: “There’s a misunderstanding about what Stand Your Ground laws really do. No Stand Your Ground law translates to a broad permission for the use of lethal force when it’s not warranted.”

He added: “A lot of people have left the starting gate before they really know what has happened. A rush to judgment is never a good thing.”

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  • by Anonymous on Mar 23, 2012 at 10:04 AM
    The majority of you are acting like robots who believe what anyone tells you. I ask that you think for yourself regarding this issue. Trevyon died on February 26. This was a Sunday night. He was 4.5 hours away from his home. Why was not he at home getting ready for school the next day instead of walking around the streets of Orlando talking on his cell phone? The reason why was that he was on a 10 day suspension from his high school. Kids do not get suspended for 10 days over nothing... This kid was not the angel the media is trying to make him...
  • by Duke again on Mar 22, 2012 at 06:12 PM
    I hope everyone remembers the Duke lacrosse thing... This appears very similar and, just like the Duke students, the media convicted them before all the facts were known...
    • reply
      by Iron Mike on Mar 22, 2012 at 07:27 PM in reply to Duke again
      Except that in this case, we kinda already know all the facts.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Mar 23, 2012 at 05:55 AM in reply to Iron Mike
        Your previous post proves you do not know all the facts and no one does because they have not been released and we are forced to believe what the media tells us to believe. Are you aware that Zimmerman was a mentor to two African American kids and that he has African American family members? One African American neighbor states that he was the first person to come over and welcome her to the neighborhood. The media is not telling this side of the story... If one, regardless of color, dresses like a thug, people will assume they are a thug. It is that simple. If this kid was wearing khakis and a knit shirt instead of a hoodie, he would probably still be alive today. Your comment about Zimmerman seeing a black male and thinking thug is wrong. It was due to his dress and mannerisms.
  • by Anonymous on Mar 22, 2012 at 05:34 AM
    This man lives in a gated community. Martin did not live in this community and was out walking around in it. Either he was looking something to steal or was up to something else no good. He is 17 years old and an adult. Adults don't just walk around the streets all day and night. I do not blame this gentleman for confronting Martin. Martin was should not have been 1.) aimlessly walking around a gated neighborhood and staring at peoples houses. 2.) when this person started watching him, he should not have pulled his "hoodie" over his head and ran to avoid him. 3.) When questioned by this person "what are you doing here" he should have stated how innocent he was instead of starting an altercation.
    • reply
      by Rich7553 on Mar 22, 2012 at 12:57 PM in reply to
      Nope, sorry. I cannot agree. Trayvon Martin was staying with a resident of that community, either his father or his father's girlfriend as I recall. He had every right to be there.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Mar 22, 2012 at 01:30 PM in reply to Rich7553
        His father should have told him not to dress like a thug and walk aimlessly around the neighborhood given the recent home breakins and robberies. He should have not tried to hide and run like a criminal. Evidence also supports Zimmerman;s statement of being hit in the back of the head by Trayvon as well.
    • reply
      by mjd on Mar 22, 2012 at 04:05 PM in reply to
      I can't really agree with that. If being somewhere you're no supposed to be is a reason to get be shot, half of all teenagers would be shot at some point. And running away is usually a good idea if someone with a gun and without a badge approaches you and you are unarmed.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Mar 22, 2012 at 06:04 PM in reply to mjd
        Zimmerman was not chasing him at gun point! He was attacked by this kid, pulled his gun and shot him. If I see some thug looking kid walking around my neighborhood starting at my and my neighbors house, I am going to do the same thing Zimmerman did in confronting him and asking him what he is doing and I will have my gun in my pocket just like Zimmerman. Pulling a hoodie over his head and running when he sees someone watching him is idiotic and makes him appear 100% like a criminal.
        • reply
          by Rich7553 on Mar 22, 2012 at 07:04 PM in reply to
          That is what is alleged by Zimmerman, but it has yet to be established as fact.
        • reply
          by Iron Mike on Mar 22, 2012 at 07:31 PM in reply to
          Except that had Trayvon started running he might still be alive. Anyone who believes this was an act of self-defense is as delusional as Zimmerman. (Anonymous, admit it, even if only to yourself. When you see a black guy, ANY BLACK GUY, you think "thug." So does Zimmerman apparently.)
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Mar 22, 2012 at 06:19 PM in reply to
      Wrong, he was staying with his father that lives in the gated community, so he had reason to be there.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Mar 23, 2012 at 05:58 AM in reply to
        FACT: This person lived in Miami and was visiting. He did not live there, thus people were not used to seeing him walking around aimlessly around the neighborhood. I do not let my house guests let their children walk aimlessly around my neighborhood dressed like a thug so he was simply asking for trouble. People are judged by their appearance and the hoodie and baggy pants look does not lend credibility.
  • by J.D. Location: ENC on Mar 22, 2012 at 04:52 AM
    Lavon you seem to know so much about this case. But I have to question you on your outrage about this case. I do not see the same outrage and anger when black men gun down other blacks. Do you only have feeling for other blacks when they are harmed by other races ?
  • by I'll Race Ya on Mar 21, 2012 at 10:58 PM
    I know most of you can't deny that there MUST be a little bit of "white blood" in both of these males. You can call them "hispanic" & "black", but the truth is, they're both mixed.
  • by Billy on Mar 21, 2012 at 06:34 PM
    To LAVON and some of the others- Where any of you There? How do you that this "Innocent" Teen didn't actually threaten or attack this Guy? Maybe he did and maybe he didn't. What ever happened until Innocent until proven guilty? If he were White would you still want the shooter put to death? If he were White this wouldn't even be in the news.
    • reply
      by GvillePir8 on Mar 21, 2012 at 07:40 PM in reply to Billy
      @Billy, the community watch captain left his safe area and pursued, followed, left that area to FIND trouble. His role is to observe and report. He has no authority to intervene. He provoked a situation. As soon as you take that role, you are no longer the victim.
      • reply
        by REM on Mar 22, 2012 at 09:11 AM in reply to GvillePir8
        Correct. If that is indeed the facts of this case. I caution you not to speculate without sworn testimony though.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Mar 22, 2012 at 09:15 AM in reply to GvillePir8
        When the person noticed that the community watch person was watching him, he pulled his hoodie over his head and ran. Zimmerman was trying to protect his neighborhood from what he believed was a thief and Travyon dressed and acted in a manner which did not allow for anyone to realize that he was not a thief. We need more people who will take a stand like Zimmerman in Greenville.
        • reply
          by mjd on Mar 22, 2012 at 03:59 PM in reply to
          Travyon may have looked and acted like a thief, but unless he threatened bodily harm Zimmerman had no legal justification to shoot him. I know all the facts are not in yet, but it's kinda hard to threaten someone when you're running away.
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Mar 22, 2012 at 05:51 PM in reply to
          That's a lie! He was told not to go after him! He took matters into his own hands. He is not the law!
        • reply
          by Iron Mike on Mar 22, 2012 at 07:34 PM in reply to
          O.k., so if running makes you look like a thief then I guess chasing an unarmed teenager and shooting him in the chest makes you look like a deranged murderer.
      • reply
        by Billy on Mar 22, 2012 at 10:38 AM in reply to GvillePir8
        To GvillePir8- Were you there? Define "Safe Area" for me. How do you know he went to "Find" troube. How do you explain His bloddy Nose? I'm not saying what Zimmerman did was right, I'm just saying you need to keep an open mind and look at all the facts before casting blame.
  • by enc on Mar 21, 2012 at 06:10 PM
    Leave it to witn to turn this into a racial issue. just look at the wording in the story. "Shot to death an unarmed black teenager" Why not just say a teenager. Oh no, this is done on purpose to enrage blacks. Doesn't matter what the color of skin. If the shooter was wrong, then face the music, if the teenager was wrong, then sorry for the family, if the teenager was committing crimes at that early of an age, chances are better than average that he would continue in his adult life. I don't know the whole story, so I'm not gonna decide or pass judgement on anyone.
  • by Frank Sinatra Location: Heaven on Mar 21, 2012 at 06:00 PM
    Based on Florida's Stand Your Ground Law Mr Zimmerman will most likely be charged but regardless of what certain "hate mongers" on here think will never go to trial.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Mar 21, 2012 at 06:44 PM in reply to Frank Sinatra
      Wanna bet?
  • by Anonymous Location: goldsboro,n.c on Mar 21, 2012 at 04:22 PM
    what is wrong with people you can't go around killing people for no reason at all,and if you did have a reason why not call tha police...
  • by ibxer on Mar 21, 2012 at 03:27 PM
    Proof of police bias: They drug tested the dead boy but NOT the shooter.
    • reply
      by REM on Mar 21, 2012 at 05:50 PM in reply to ibxer
      Tox screens are standard forensic investigative procedures.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Mar 21, 2012 at 06:44 PM in reply to REM
        Why didn't they test the shooter?
        • reply
          by REM on Mar 22, 2012 at 06:26 AM in reply to
          Why would they need to? No probable cause. If he had been drunk, smelled of alcohol, or exhibited any other signs of intoxication or impairment they might have had the legal justification of drug testing him. I'm pretty sure it can be argued that it's unconstitutional to drug test someone in such a situation.
        • reply
          by Iron Mike on Mar 22, 2012 at 07:36 PM in reply to
          Yeah, because there's no probably cause when a guy chases an unarmed teen and shoots him in the chest after being told by the police not to follow him. Nope, nothing to see here folks. Move along.

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