Convictions, Not Acquittals, Are the Real Problem

Will Wilkinson points out an important paradox in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, that while the injustice in this case may be that a guilty man went free, the larger and more common injustice in our system is the innocent person, nearly always poor and dark-skinned, who is convicted unjustly:

“In Texas you can get away with shooting someone to death if they’re running away with your property. That’s insane, and it’s easy to see how a law like that rigs the system in favour of people with a lot of property—a class that remains disproportionately white and male. However, on the whole, our criminal-justice system is so frightfully racist because it’s too easy for prosecutors, not because it’s too hard. Of course, in a racist society, rules that help defendants are going to help the most privileged defendants the most, and that’s maddening. But that shouldn’t stop us from recognizing that the least privileged, the most oppressed, the most discriminated against, are far and away most likely to stand accused. That’s why I suspect that a legal system making it harder for the likes of Mr Zimmerman to get away with it would be a system of even more outrageous racial inequity.”

This is a very good point, regardless of whether the outcome in this particular case was correct or not. The astonishingly racist nature of our criminal (in)justice system is found primarily in convictions, not acquittals. And the overwhelming majority of those convictions (well over 90%) are the result of guilty pleas from those who have public defenders representing them (about 80%), with no resources or time to go to trial and mount a defense at all.

Both are bad, of course — guilty people with means getting off and innocent people without means getting convicted. But the latter tends to have a much bigger effect on far more people.

47 comments on this post.
  1. ArtK:

    “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” — William Blackstone

  2. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!:

    But is that really true?

    What if the ten guilty people are all serial killing rapist murderers who each go on to murder and kill another ten innocent people?

  3. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!:

    Victims of crime should have more say.

    Emphasis should be on protecting the rest of us from the criminals in my view – and I think the view of many others.

    I’d like fewer laws better enforced and more common sense and less letting off on technical loopholes when it comes to justice.

    OJ Simpson got away with murder.

    So now has George Zimmerman.

    Both those outcomes are agonisingly wrong and unjust.

  4. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!:

    I’d even go as far as saying both those should-have-been-convicted criminals – Simpson & Zimmerman – should have been executed for murder and the harm they’ve caused so many -not just victims but family, friends and broader society where the social contract of protection from crooks by the law has been breached.

  5. otrame:

    Simpson approached his wife with the intention of killing her. Zimmerman brought a gun to a fist fight. Simpson got away* with murder. Zimmerman got away with manslaughter.

    *and in the long run both would have been better off being convicted IMHO.

  6. ArtK:

    StevoR

    Short answer: Yes.

    Long answer: If we’re failing to convict 10 serial killers then there’s something seriously wrong with the system. Nobody wants the guilty to go free. You can ask your question because you’ve never faced conviction as an innocent person. Go ask someone freed by the work of the Innocence Project about how they feel.

    By the way, what is “common sense”? How does it work in legal proceedings? Do you, Ed, and I have the same idea of what is “common sense”? The answer is ‘no’, which is why we have laws. If “common sense” were real and universal, we wouldn’t need laws. In a way, our laws are (or should be) the codification of what we as a society agree are “common sense.” But “common sense” as you apply it is very personal and not universal.

  7. gshelley:

    This is something I have thought about. As far as I have seen, and I haven’t seen anyone make any rational case to the contrary, Zimmerman presented a plausible scenario that Martin attacked him and he shot in self defence. this makes the verdict correct. In order to not allow this sort of result, you would have to make significant changes to the law, with the potential for unforseen repercussions.
    I don’t know if this would result in even more racially based decisions. My suspicion is that if this case had been the other way round, the jury might have been less likely to believe the defence, but I don’t know, though I imagine there are enough trial results to support this one way or an other

  8. dogmeat:

    Stevo, you completely miss the point. Should the victims have more say? Hell no.

    Human nature, history, and studies attest to the fact that people convince themselves that they “know” someone is guilty despite mountains of evidence that they are not. The criminal justice system needs to be weighted towards the accused because the massive power of the state already unbalances. Instead we have to deal with the following:

    People tend to believe that a person was “arrested for a reason.” Really? How do you know this? That’s why we have trials in the first place. Add victims or their survivors to the mix and we’ll end up with a vendetta system, not a justice system.

    Police officers who bring in suspects tend to believe that their suspect is guilty. Are they right? Data suggests that they tend to bring in minority men a lot more often then minority men actually commit crimes. Add to that frustration because “dirt bags get away with it,” and you have the issue of officers bringing in a suspect who “may not have done this one, but I’m sure he got away with something else.” Again, we need safeguards in place to cope with simple mistakes, not to mention bias, racism, etc.

    Prosecutors tend to have a vested interest in obtaining convictions. The entire system is weighted towards them needing to show their ability to gain convictions. Not to actually solve crimes and bring criminals to justice, but to gain convictions. Again, the system has to account for this vested interest in the outcome.

    Public Defender’s Offices are woefully underfunded, understaffed, and often have some of the least experienced or downright least qualified attorneys. You want to actually make it easier to obtain convictions with this part of the system so woefully broken?

    Judges in many states benefit by leveling the harshest penalties. Again, vested interest in punishment, not in justice, but in vengeance.

    You put that all together and the system is already stacked heavily against poor defendants, and you want to add victims having a say in how things are done? We might as well shift to a guilty until proven innocent system, or better yet, officers simply execute those they believe guilty, no muss, no fuss, no expense of a trial, just gun ‘em down.

  9. dogmeat:

    Ack…

    “Should the victims have more say” should be part of the paragraph following “stevo you completely miss the point.”

  10. Ace of Sevens:

    I’ve gotten into the argument with several other people: The current system is bad for minorities, but a system where juries were encouraged to vote people guilty because they thought they were guilty rather than be so would just make things worse. Minorities already don’t get the same benefit of the doubt defendants, so we have lots of reason to think they would get the worst of such an idea.

    PoCs have a lot more to fear from the court system than the Zimmermans of the world.

  11. F [is for fluvial]:

    gshelley:

    People keep saying that, but the only reason it is true is because one person was unavailable to defend himself in court.

    Other factors which may affect SYG-related defenses:
    - Defending yourself without a gun doesn’t count?
    - Defending yourself while Black doesn’t count. (At least when the other party is non-Black.)
    - You can go start a fight, and when you are losing or a-skeert (or claim so afterwards) you can shoot anyone you like as long as you are more innately garner sympathy (generally based upon bigotries) from a prosecutor, judge, and/or jury than your deceased opponent.

  12. Ace of Sevens:

    @gshelley: This is a difficult with self defense cases in general because, by definition, the most relevant witness is dead. However, there are a lot of things you can do that other states have already done:

    To the best of my knowledge, there is no case law that says the 2nd Amendment means that we have to let people carry guns around in public. Illinois, in fact, doesn’t. Getting rid of concealed carry licenses wouldn’t be uncharted territory.

    We could eliminate SYG. If people have a duty to not start conflicts that lead to a shooting and to resolve them without shooting someone if at all possible if they find themselves in a conflict, that eliminates a lot of the ambiguity about who was defending themselves from who.

    On that note, I’d say Zimmerman’s claim that he wasn’t following Martin was implausible. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he started the confrontation. I’m not sure if that was really proven. If it had been legally relevant, the court would have focused on it more.

  13. Olav:

    Dogmeat, the paragraph break works like you did in #8 too.

    Agree completely with what you wrote. Victims should stay out of criminal justice proceedings, except as witnesses. At the most they could be allowed to make a statement on their own behalf. But ultimately the trial is not about them.

    That’s not to say there should not be compensation, care and assistance for victims, ideally paid for by the person who committed the crime against them.

  14. slc1:

    Re Stevor @ #4

    Simpson was acquitted because of the incompetence of the prosecution, not because of legal loopholes. Actually, the prosecution’s litany of blunders started when the DA, because of political considerations (he was getting ready to run for governor of California and didn’t want to antagonize Afro-Americans)), decided not to ask for the death penalty for Simpson. If the prosecutor’s theory of the case was correct, this should have been a death penalty case as their claim was that Simpson murdered Ron Goldman while committing a felony (e.g. murdering NIcole Brown). The advantage to the prosecution of a capital case is that the jury must be death qualified, which means that the jurors are likely to be older and more conservative and thus are more likely to convict.

    As for Zimmerman, the case was overcharged as 2nd degree murder from the get go. In fact, the prosecution, at the last minute, just before the case went to the jury, all but admitted it by asking for the judge to allow the jury to consider the lesser included charges of manslaughter and even lower lesser included charges. The judge allowed manslaughter but rejected the other lesser included charges.

  15. Anneliese:

    Michelle Alexander, in her book “The New Jim Crow,” blasts the current system that arrests and punishes so many Black and Latino men for nonviolent drug crimes. It is well worth the time to read.

  16. jenny6833a:

    The emphasis on race and on convictions seem inaccurate to me. I saw both of these in Ed’s post as well as in the comments. Instead of ‘race,’ it would more accurate to use a phrase that says those who the ‘good’ people in society dislike. Such a phrase would still include people of color and people without money, but would expand the concept to cover those who are neither.

    It would also be better to speak of ‘punishment’ instead of ‘convictions.’ Those who the ‘good’ people of society dislike are routinely punished (roughed up, arrested, jailed, high bail, lost income, lost job, heavy legal expenses, adverse publicity, etc) although they have broken no law. If they plead guilty to whatever phony charge the officer makes up, they’ve been convicted. If they persist in fighting the charges, the charges are eventually dropped or they’re convicted anyway. If they’re convicted and continue to persist, their conviction is overturned years later. But, as the ‘good’ people of society see it, they’ve been taught a lesson. “You can’t do that (or be that) here.”

    Police officers are almost never punished for bad arrests, and are routinely encouraged to make them. Prosecutors suffer no penalty for dragging such cases on forever, or for bringing a defendant into court again and again for trials that are put off at the last minute. Lower level judges often convict in contradiction to the law, and are then re-elected by larger margins. “You can’t do that here.”

    Until such misuse of power is penalized, we are NOT a nation of laws.

    Examples on request.

  17. Michael Heath:

    gshelley writes:

    This is something I have thought about. As far as I have seen, and I haven’t seen anyone make any rational case to the contrary, Zimmerman presented a plausible scenario that Martin attacked him and he shot in self defence. this makes the verdict correct.

    Wrong on a couple of counts. First, there was zero compelling evidence that Trayvon Martin, “attacked” George Zimmerman as opposed to defending himself against a perceived threat by his stalker. Second, even if Martin preemptively struck first against his stalker, a jury could still find the stalker guilty of manslaughter if that stalker acted negligently; where I find it self-evident Zimmerman acted negligently.

  18. Ben P:

    Wrong on a couple of counts. First, there was zero compelling evidence that Trayvon Martin, “attacked” George Zimmerman as opposed to defending himself against a perceived threat by his stalker.

    Following someone down a public street at night is not illegal. If the Scenario were flipped and Trayvon Martin were charged with assault for beating up George Zimmerman (and there is evidence he did beat up George Zimmerman) , Martin might conceivably have a claim for self against his own charges.

    but (1) in the absence of any evidence at all you’re concocting a scenario out of whole cloth. You have precisely zero evidence what Martin was actually thinking, and the jury didn’t either. (2) legally that can’t be flipped and say “Martin was afraid when he attacked Zimmerman, therefore ZImmerman can’t legally use self defense to protect himself from Martin.” Following someone isn’t illegal and from the evidence we do have, Zimmerman didn’t initiate a violent confrontation.

  19. Ace of Sevens:

    Also, it doesn’t matter whether Zimmerman was negligent. Under FLorida law, you can still claim self defense in a confrontation you started if the other party responds with force that reasonably makes you fear for you r life or fear serious bodily harm. Unless you are arguing that, incontext, it was unreasonable for Zimmerman to think Martin might kill him, self defense was legit. Considering many people have been killed or suffered brain damage in similar situation, that would be an uphill argument.

    The problem here isn’t the jury. It’s the culture that made Zimmerman follow Martin in the first place, which the jury wasn’t supposed to consider and is so enamored of letting people play wild west that it lets people run around armed and defines self defense ludicrously broadly.

  20. thephilosophicalprimate:

    The claim that Zimmerman wasn’t following Martin is being willfully distorted by his defenders. Zimmerman claimed that he was no longer following Martin **when Martin assaulted him**, but even Zimmerman’s own account is that he spotted Martin “acting suspiciously” (a spurious and biased judgment, but never mind) and followed him first in his vehicle, then on foot (even after being told by the 911 operator “we don’t need you to do that”). Zimmerman claims he was no longer following Martin and was walking back to his vehicle when attacked, but he’d already followed the young man around the neighborhood for some time at that point — which any sensible person would probably be frightened by. The only plausible interpretation of events consistent with Zimmerman’s own testimony is that Martin was both angered and frightened by this stranger following him around (which is also consistent with what Martin said to his friend on the phone about some cracker following him), and ducked into hiding to get the drop on his pursuer. What exactly motivated Martin to respond to his pursuer in this way, we can only guess — because corpses can’t testify. While Martin’s response was foolish and can justly be called overly aggressive, it was not completely unwarranted or unmotivated — because Zimmerman had indeed stalked Martin through the neighborhood, and the only reason Zimmerman was no longer following Martin at the time of the assault is that he’d lost track of him.

    This facile, self-satisfied claim that “following someone isn’t a crime” ignores all the details of the case. If you were followed in a vehicle while walking alone at night, then your pursuer got out that vehicle to pursue you on foot through the rain, you would feel threatened. Most any reasonable person would. Therefore, Zimmerman was not engaging in perfectly neutral behavior, like walking down the same sidewalk as someone else in broad daylight on a busy street. It was threatening behavior, and any reasonable person would find it so. Zimmerman created a situation where someone felt threatened by him, and then responded with deadly force when the threatened person overreacted to that threat.

    The plain truth is that, even if we accept all of Zimmerman’s own testimony at face value and include no speculation at all, Zimmerman was an armed vigilante looking for trouble. His own words make his motivation clear; “these punks always get away,” and he was determined that *this* punk was not going to get away. And Florida’s gun-happy “stand your ground, no duty to retreat” self-defense laws passed in 2005 — written and promoted in many states by right wing legislative lobbying organization ALEC in service to their arms manufacturer contributors — both encouraged such gun-toting vigilantism and made it easy for Zimmerman to escape any consequence for it. Mind you, he should not have been found guilty of murder, given the circumstances (as far as we know them and as far as they can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt). But a conviction of manslaughter or some lesser crime (reckless endangerment?) would certainly seem to be warranted by his willful creation of the dangerous situation in which he used deadly force. However, even if the prosecutors hadn’t incompetently overcharged by seeking a murder conviction, convicting Zimmerman even on lesser charges was rendered nearly impossible by laws that establish no duty to retreat or to use the least force necessary — which duties have been included in most sensible self-defense laws in most jurisdictions (and not just in the U.S.) for many decades.

  21. gopiballava:

    StevoR:

    Can you explain what sort of say the victim should have, and what sort of problems it would solve?

    I thought this post was on the topic of wrongful convictions, so I definitely don’t see how giving the victim greater influence on the proceedings would help.

  22. thascius:

    Following someone in public may not be illegal, but I suspect a lot of the white people leaping to Zimmerman’s defense would be terrified if someone who looked like him was following them at night. Had Trayvon been 18 and armed he could plausibly have claimed stand your ground as a defense. Had he been white under that scenario he would almost certainly have gotten away with it.

  23. democommie:

    “Following someone down a public street at night is not illegal.”

    In FL, in a gated community fulla white folks, you KNOW that if Zimmerman was being “followed” by Martin and the cops had showed up, Martin would have wound up in custody.

    ” If the Scenario were flipped and Trayvon Martin were charged with assault for beating up George Zimmerman (and there is evidence he did beat up George Zimmerman) ”

    Zimmerman’s injuries did not require medical treatment on the night of the attack. He was not in police custody overnight and nobody knows what went on between the time he was originally released and subsequently arrested. The evidence is sketchy and the chain of evidence was broken when the cops let Zimmerman leave without being thoroughly examined by a doctor–while they were in the same facility.

    “Martin might conceivably have a claim for self against his own charges.”

    Again, not in the real world of a gated community in FL.

  24. Ace of Sevens:

    Martin could have claimed SYG as a defense had he survived if he had gotten a jury that would treat him fairly under the law (an admittedly difficult prospect). If a law where 2 people can legally kill each sounds like a terrible law, that’s because it is.

    Almost all the arguments I’ve heard about how Zimmerman should have been convicted are speculative and based on what the law should be. In the law as it is, it doesn’t matter if Zimmerman started the fight and it doesn’t matter if Martin’s assault on him was legally justified. In order for the prosecution to show that Zimmerman was not acting in self defense they would need to prove one or more of the following:

    1) Zimmerman was in a place where he had no legal right to be.
    2) Zimmerman was engaged in unlawful activity at the time.
    3) Zimmerman was not afraid he would be killed or suffer great bodily harm or that said fear was unreasonable.
    4) Martin was a law-enforcement officer.

    The statute can be found here:

    http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String&URL=0700-0799/0776/Sections/0776.013.html

    1 & 4 are obviously not true. 2 is why it’s very relevant that following someone is not illegal. It’s possible that Zimmerman assaulted Martin first, by grabbing him or something, but the prosecution came nowhere near proving this. The prosecution actually tried to argue that he was committing child abuse, but the judge threw out that argument because of its obvious question-begging nature.

    3 only works if the prosecution proved that Martin wasn’t hitting him or that it was unreasonable to believe Martin could have killed or seriously injured Zimmerman. Martin was smaller than Zimmerman and unarmed, but given that plenty of other people have been seriously injured this way (Google Douglas Reddish for a recent example) and the fact that benefit of the doubt goes to the defendant, I don’t see how you can reasonably convict based on this fact.

  25. laurentweppe:

    Michelle Alexander, in her book “The New Jim Crow,” blasts the current system that arrests and punishes so many Black and Latino men for nonviolent drug crimes

    And most importantly, she notes that the reason the system works is because it is unfair: if the laws were applied fairly regardless of the ethnic & social groups, the upper-class would be up in arms and mercilessly twisting the arms of their lackeys in the political class and the media to make the criminial system way more lax. Unfairness is not a failure of the system: it is the keystone that allows it to function as it is in the first place.

  26. Dalillama, Schmott Guy:

    I’vYou didn’t address in the other thread when you mad your argument 3 above, so I’ll repeat it: According to your definition of reasonable fear, which you have used to defend the verdict in question, I could carry a gun with me when I’m out bicycling, and if anyone makes an unsignaled turn in my vicinity, I could haul off and blow them away, and according to you, I should be charged with nothing worse than involuntary manslaughter, and not be convicted of even that much. You see, bicyclists die of being hit by cars all the time, and I’ve personally been hit by cars making unsignaled turns through the space that I was occupying on more than a half-dozen occasions. I have been fortunate enough not to suffer severe harm from any of these incidents, but I could have died. Therefore, according to you, I have a ‘reasonable fear’ for my life anytime someone does that nearby me, and since it is technically a violation of the law to make such a turn, that force is unlawful. The scenario I describe puts my in exponentially more danger than Zimmerman could possibly have been in from an unarmed teenager (leaving aside the fact that Zimmerman was the aggressor, and thus has pretty much no justification for any amount of force whatsoever regardless of what Trayvon did or didn’t do, because Trayvon’s force would be used in a lawful manner). So, do you agree that I am justified in shooting bad drivers,and if not, what is the difference, in your mind?

  27. Ace of Sevens:

    cross-posted response to the above:

    It has to an immediate threat and your actions have to defend you, but provided that it was reasonable to believe that there was at least a significant chance that they were about to hit you right now, not just that their bad driving was generally dangerous and that shooting them would prevent them from hitting you, this would in fact be legal.

    Killing someone who’s driving right at you is legal anywhere, assuming that you don’t have the option to get out of the way. Florida drops even this requirement. I’m not sure where you’re going with that example as the facts seem far more in favor of the cyclist as car/cyclist accidents are far more likely to be deadly than fist fights and the cyclist did nothing to intentionally create the situation. This seems like an uncontroversial example of self defense except that it’s hard to imagine a situation where inertia wouldn’t cause the car to hit you anyway.

  28. Lofty:

    Stevor loves himself some pre-emptive justice.

  29. Michael Heath:

    Me earlier:

    Wrong on a couple of counts. First, there was zero compelling evidence that Trayvon Martin, “attacked” George Zimmerman as opposed to defending himself against a perceived threat by his stalker.

    Ben P. responds:

    Following someone down a public street at night is not illegal.

    I never claimed it was illegal and the facts I rely on to make my conclusion don’t require Zimmerman’s stalking to be illegal. That’s because I’ve never defended a 2nd degree murder conviction, but instead argued it was self-evidently manslaughter due to Zimmerman’s negligence. Sheesh.

  30. Ace of Sevens:

    @Michael Heath: Yes, but you haven’t explained why ZImmerman’s negligence is legally relevant,. Here’s Flrida’s self-defense law:

    http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String&URL=0700-0799/0776/Sections/0776.013.html

    It only says that you can’t claim self defense if you are engaged in an unlawful activity. It says nothing about negligence or being an initial aggressor invalidating self-defense. The prosecution asked the judge to instruct the jury to consider whether Zimmerman was the initial aggressor and he refused on this basis.

    That aside, seeing as Zimmerman following Martin was only an indirect cause of his death, if he were negligent that would only support a charge of involuntary manslaughter. This wasn’t on the table.

  31. democommie:

    “Killing someone who’s driving right at you is legal anywhere,”

    Really? Citations required, several hundred of them, at least.

    Zimmerman is a murdering scumbag, whether he is found guilty this time or tne next time or the time after that when he makes sure that one of “them” doesn’t get away with it.

  32. Tony! The Flaming Queer Shoop:

    StevoR:
    Still backing retributive, barbaric eye for an eye style justice…at least you are not talking about slaughtering innocents in your neverending quest to rid the world of evil terrorists who pose no threat to you (but whom you whine about being such a threat).
    I do not advocate Zimmerman being killed. That does not bring Trayvon back to life and does nothing to solve any problems. He needs to be imprisoned and rehabilitated. He needs an experienced counselor to help him overcome his gun fetish, racism and vigilante attitude. He needs to give back to society in some measure. No he csn never do enough to balance the scales, but devoting his life to atonement would benefit the world around him.
    and accomplish a fuckton more than killing him you genocidal assclam.

  33. Tony! The Flaming Queer Shoop:

    Ace of sevens:
    Zimmerman racially profiling and following Martin is part of the sequence of events that led to Martins death. They play a strong role in the whole situation. You seem awfully quick to dismiss them.

  34. Ace of Sevens:

    @democommie, you are allowed to use deadly force to prevent yourself or others from being killed or suffering severe bodily harm, provided you have no non-deadly ways to do this, pretty much everywhere. Some states, including Florida, remove the requirement that you must use other options if available. Would a car driving straight at you reasonably cause a fear of death or serious bodily harm? If yes, then you could use deadly force to protect yourself. You don’t see this come up much in real life because a car vs. pedestrian situation where the pedestrian where the pedestrian has the means to kill the driver and could actually help their situation by doing so is rather rare, but plenty of case law establishes that cars are deadly weapons.

  35. Ace of Sevens:

    @33: I’m not dismissing them. I’m just saying that playing a strong role isn’t enough for a voluntary manslaughter conviction. Also, it’s not enough to show that he met the elements for manslaughter. You have to show that he met the elements for manslaughter and didn’t meet the legal qualifications for self defense, which I linked and explained above.

  36. dingojack:

    So let’s say this is the scenario:
    Z sees M in his neighbourhood. Fearing that M is going to commit a felony, Z follows him in his truck. While in his truck Z calls 911 to report the situation. Z says he is going to follow, he also says that ‘they always get away with it’ and ‘they aren’t gonna get away with this time’ (or words to that effect). M on foot but the 911 operator says, rather ambiguously, ‘we don’t need you to do that’. Z gets out on foot and follows M around. M is clearly frightened an tries to hide. For some reason M confronts Z (suddenly and unexpectedly?). A scuffle breaks out with both M and Z momentarily getting the better of it. Z pulls a gun and shoots M.

    So the shooting was not premeditated, but enmity was shown by Z toward M (at least in and abstract sense). So how is 2nd degree murder is not unreasonable?

    It would not be ‘justifiable’ nor ‘excusable’* under Florida Law (iANAL).

    Dingo
    ——-
    *782.02 Justifiable use of deadly force.—The use of deadly force is justifiable when a person is resisting any attempt to murder such person or to commit any felony upon him or her or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person shall be.

    782.03 Excusable homicide.—Homicide is excusable when committed by accident and misfortune in doing any lawful act by lawful means with usual ordinary caution, and without any unlawful intent, or by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation, or upon a sudden combat, without any dangerous weapon being used and not done in a cruel or unusual manner”.

    782.04 Murder.—

    (2) The unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual, is murder in the second degree and constitutes a felony of the first degree, punishable by imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding life or as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
    (3) When a human being is killed during the perpetration of, or during the attempt to perpetrate, any:
    (a) Trafficking offense prohibited by s. 893.135(1),
    (b) Arson,
    (c) Sexual battery,
    (d) Robbery,
    (e) Burglary,
    (f) Kidnapping,
    (g) Escape,
    (h) Aggravated child abuse,
    (i) Aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult,
    (j) Aircraft piracy,
    (k) Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb,
    (l) Carjacking,
    (m) Home-invasion robbery,
    (n) Aggravated stalking,
    (o) Murder of another human being,
    (p) Aggravated fleeing or eluding with serious bodily injury or death,
    (q) Resisting an officer with violence to his or her person, or
    (r) Felony that is an act of terrorism or is in furtherance of an act of terrorism, by a person other than the person engaged in the perpetration of or in the attempt to perpetrate such felony, the person perpetrating or attempting to perpetrate such felony commits murder in the second degree, which constitutes a felony of the first degree, punishable by imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding life or as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

  37. Ace of Sevens:

    @dingojack: You are quoting the wrong law.There’s more than one way to make a killing justifiable. That’s the justifiable homicide statute. Zimmerman was relying on 776.013(3), Justifiable Use of Force, which says:

    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, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

    There are a few qualifiers in there, but nothing about how it doesn’t apply if you started the fight or otherwise created the situation. Under that law, it only wouldn’t be justified if Zimmerman was committing a crime, he wasn’t afraid for his life or his fear wasn’t reasonable.

  38. dingojack:

    Tthe bits I quote were concerning 2nd Degree Murder.
    But the Statue doesn’t actually apply to Mr. Zimmerman if he were stalking Mr Martin, or causing reasonable fear in Mr Martin. That would not be legal.
    BTW = So when is ‘using deadly force’ not murer or manslaughter?
    Dingo

  39. Ace of Sevens:

    The statute wouldn’t apply if he were stalking Martin due to the clause about illegal activity. The relevant statute 784.08. It says

    A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking, a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

    Obviously, this doesn’t fit. Zimmerman willfully followed Martin, but I’m not sure malice is proven and it definitely wasn’t repeated.

    There’s no law against causing reasonable fear. Or at least, if there is, the prosecution didn’t argue it. It’s perfectly possible for two people to fear for their lives and have the legal right to kill each other without either committing a crime. In fact, that seems to what happened here.

    The prosecution did try to argue that ZImmerman was committing a crime and therefore unable to claim self defense, but all they could come up with was child abuse, which the judge didn’t allow. If any of these other things were clearly crimes, I think they would have used them

  40. dingojack:

    Wouldn’t ‘putting in fear’ come under the rubric of assault?
    Dingo

  41. democommie:

    “@democommie, you are allowed to use deadly force to prevent yourself or others from being killed or suffering severe bodily harm, provided you have no non-deadly ways to do this, pretty much everywhere.”

    That.

    Is not a citation.

    I’m well aware of self-defense being a legal remedy for having killed someone. In order to kill someone who’s driving a car with intent to kill you, you’d have to KNOW that person is trying to kill you, in order for it to be self-defense.

    And, that word, “everywhere” that covers a LOT of ground. The U.S. is one of a couple of hundred + countries. I can say, with reasonable assurance, that you are incorrect. Unless of course you can show me the citations that prove otherwise.

  42. Ace of Sevens:

    @dingojack: Putting someone in fear wouldn’t necessarily be assault. It woudl if you did it by threatening them or if you did it with the intention of harassing them, but otherwise it isn’t illegal.

    @democommie: Here’s the relevant section of the model penal code:

    http://defensewiki.ibj.org/index.php/Self-Defense#Defense_of_Self

    If there’s any jurisdiction that requires that you have a reasonable belief that someone is trying to do you severely bodily harm and not just a reasonable belief that they are going to cause you severe bodily harm, intentionally or not, I am unaware of. I suppose I can’t say for sure no one has a law like this, but it would depart from legal tradition and not make a lot of sense.

  43. democommie:

    So you didn’t mean “anywhere”. You meant anywhere that you know about. I realize that the distinction may be meaningless to you but it’s not to others.

    Regardless, the citation you provide is ambiguous about what constitutes “self-defense” and your assertion that someone driving a car, who appears to be intent on harming you, can be killed is not supported in any way that I can see.

  44. kyoseki:

    I’m honestly curious, seriously.

    Are there any jurisdictions that take the duty to retreat to it’s last logical step?

    If, when faced with an overwhelming force and having exercised your duty to retreat as far as you may possibly do so, are there any jurisdictions within the US or other countries, that require you to simply submit to whatever crime an assailant has in mind?

    Or rather, are there any jurisdictions that do not allow for self defense in the face of an obvious life threatening assailant?

    Naturally, the definitions of “obvious”, “life threatening” and “assailant” vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but I’m honestly curious where, if you’re facing an obvious, life threatening and deliberate assault on your person, you are expected to just die.

  45. lordshipmayhem:

    As far as I can see, this case is exactly a case of an innocent member of a minority being convicted: Trayvon was convicted without trial by Zimmerman of being the break-and-enter suspect, simply because he was black and therefore didn’t belong in his neighbourhood. I remain utterly astonished that Zimmerman gets no punishment whatsoever for his extra-judicial conviction of young Mr. Martin.

  46. DaveL:

    @45

    What nonsense. Martin was not convicted of anything, extra-judicially or otherwise. For Zimmerman to wrongly suspect Martin of being a burglar does not justify the latter attacking the former, and let’s try not to ignore that this attack is what precipitated the shooting.

    To pretend that Zimmerman simply decided to hunt Martin down and execute him as a burglar is to ignore heaps of evidence introduced at trial in favor of your own wholly fictional narrative.

  47. democommie:

    “To pretend that Zimmerman simply decided to hunt Martin down and execute him as a burglar is to ignore heaps of evidence introduced at trial in favor of your own wholly fictional narrative.”

    I keep reading comments (here and elsewhere) saying that Zimmerman was, somehow, the wronged party. Most, if not all, of these comments refer to evidence offered at trial. Zimmerman was, of course, alive at the time of the trial and could offer testimony or, at the discretion of his dirtbag* lawyer, could simply sit mute, but alive and breathing in his nice suit and unskinhead haircut. Trayvon Martin, otoh, was dead and buried and his presence/lack thereof robbed the jury of any chance to compare the two parties.

    We will never for sure what happened. The notion that Zimmerman is an innocent party is laughable. Absent Zimmerman’s vigilante fantasies and possession of a tool that just happens to be designed to kill people, there would likely have been no confrontation because Zimmerman, like most bullies, is a fucking coward–not a surprise. I wonder how many offers his agent has fielded for a roman a’ clef about some poor put-upon white boy who has to clear out the “hood” to make it safe for his pregnant wife and 3 yo daughter; working title, “You’re done, Punk!”.

    * Yeah, sorry, guy who pulls the race card because his client killed somebody, that’s sorta “dirtbaggish”.

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