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George Zimmerman and the Court of Public Opinion

SANFORD, FL – JULY 9: George Zimmerman watches the jury arrive in the courtroom during the 21st day of his trial in Seminole circuit court, July 9, 2013 in Sanford, Florida. Credit: Getty Images (contrib size) \n

The prosecution finally rested in the George Zimmerman trial last Friday. Despite the State of Florida's lackluster performance during its portion of litigation, the media has managed to score some major points in the "court of public opinion." While listening to various radio talk shows and reading comments posted on the internet, I have noticed a pattern of ridiculous arguments coming from Zimmerman's many detractors. These arguments are dangerous mainly because they show just how little many Americans understand or care about the law. I shall address some of them individually. For edification purposes, I have also included the exact text of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law.

Florida Statute Title XLVI Chapter 776.013(3)

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.

Ridiculous Argument 1:  "George Zimmerman was a grown man and Trayvon Martin was a boy."

Trayvon Martin's age is irrelevant in this case, but the media did a great job of biasing public opinion by showing an outdated picture of Trayvon as a little boy. Martin's age would be a factor if he were the one on trial, particularly during the sentencing phase. However, Martin is not the one on trial here. Despite the fact that Trayvon was technically a minor (he was seventeen), his physical maturity gave him the potential capacity to cause death or serious bodily harm to George Zimmerman.

So the two relevant questions in this case are: (1) Did Martin attack Zimmerman or did Zimmerman attack Martin?  (2) If Martin was indeed the attacker, did Zimmerman reasonably believe that using deadly force was the only way to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself?  The plain meaning of the law (shown above) clearly indicates that these are the lines of inquiry which need to be addressed.

SANFORD, FL - JULY 9: George Zimmerman listens to defense counsel Don West (L) during his trial in Seminole circuit court, July 9, 2013 in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.(Credit: Getty Images) 


Ridiculous Argument 2:  "George Zimmerman should not have gotten out of his car. The dispatcher ordered him not to follow Trayvon Martin. He violated a direct order from a police officer."

Many believe that George Zimmerman failed to return to his vehicle as ordered by the dispatcher he spoke to on the phone. No such order was given. What was actually said was: "Okay, we don't need you to [follow Trayvon Martin]." The language is suggestive, but not imperative. The dispatcher, Sean Noffke, testified that he is only permitted to make suggestions to callers, not give orders, due to liability concerns. It's also worth pointing out that Mr. Noffke is not a sworn law enforcement officer.

The fact is that Zimmerman had a lawful right to be where he was at the time, namely a public street. During the call, the dispatcher said that officers would call Zimmerman for his precise location when they were in the area. Zimmerman claimed that the reason he remained outside his vehicle was to determine his exact current address for the police. He then stated that he returned to his vehicle after learning his precise location. It was then that he was purportedly confronted by Trayvon Martin. The prosecution's job was to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this is not true. They have thus far failed to do so.

Ridiculous Argument 3:  "George Zimmerman had a gun!  Trayvon Martin was unarmed."

First, George Zimmerman owned his gun legally and possessed a valid Florida concealed carry license at the time of the incident. Second, Florida law is ambivalent as to whether the assailant or the victim possess a firearm (see above). Keep in mind that an attacker need not possess a firearm to inflict death or great bodily harm even if the victim has one. It was pointed out during the trial that the cement sidewalk was technically a weapon insofar as it allegedly inflicted wounds upon the back of George Zimmerman's head while Trayvon was allegedly punching him. Most importantly, according to Zimmerman's statement to the police, Mr. Martin attempted to procure Zimmerman's gun and said he was going to "die tonight." If this story is true, then there is a very strong argument that Mr. Zimmerman reasonably believed that he was in danger of death or great bodily harm. If Zimmerman's story is true, that would make his use of deadly force justified.

Ridiculous Argument 4:  "George Zimmerman should not have been following Trayvon Martin at all that night. He was a 'wannabe cop' and he was racially profiling Trayvon!  That's a hate crime!"

As I've previously established, George Zimmerman had a right to be where he was. Also, private citizens have a right to establish and run neighborhood watch groups, something usually encouraged by police agencies. Whether George Zimmerman wanted to be a cop is irrelevant unless he attempted to exercise police powers or impersonate a sworn police officer. Suppose it was suspected that Zimmerman had been flashing a badge and telling Martin that he was under arrest with his gun drawn. This would have motivated the prosecution to file appropriate charges (i.e. impersonating a police officer, public display of a firearm, etc.).  However, the prosecution could not show during its arguments that characterizing George Zimmerman as a "wannabe cop" had any relevance to facts which could be proven by available evidence. This was merely a cheap (but effective) tactic to create bias within the jury and in public opinion.

Furthermore, there is simply not enough evidence to show that Zimmerman committed a "hate crime." First, the prosecution failed to prove by any objective legal standard that Zimmerman was the aggressor. It was also incumbent upon the prosecution to prove that Zimmerman was specifically profiling Martin based on race if he was indeed committing a hate crime. It has already been shown that the media selectively edited Zimmerman's 911 call to make him sound like a racist.  There is simply no factual, solid evidence that Trayvon Martin was racially profiled or targeted because he was black.


My counterarguments are based on the assumption that Zimmerman is innocent of any crime until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  That is the standard of proof used in the adversarial court system of the United States of America. It should be alarming to all of us that any of the people making the above arguments could someday sit on a jury. Be afraid. Be very afraid.


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