The Evil New 'Stand Your Ground' Law That Made the Killing of Trayvon Martin Permissible
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Why were Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman judged by different standards?
Ever since a Seminole County, Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty on Saturday night of murdering Trayvon Martin, many commentators in the mainstream media have made a special effort to point out that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground and Shoot First” law played no role whatsoever in Zimmerman’s acquittal.
Here, for example, is a clip - cut courtesy of Media Matters - of CNN’s Chris Cuomo dismissing Stand Your Ground’s impact on the case during a Sunday broadcast, less than a day after the jury announced its verdict.
Chris is just wrong. “Stand Your Ground” isn’t some stand-alone law, it’s a complete modification of Florida’s rules governing the use of deadly force for self-defense. As a result, it played an essential role in the Zimmerman trial. In fact, it created two different standards by which the six jurors judged both George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.
As former Florida Secretary of State Dan Gelber has pointed out, pre-Jeb Bush, pre- Koch Brothers, and pre-ALEC Florida law would have required the following instructions to be read to a jury in a self-defense murder trial:
"The defendant [George Zimmerman] cannot justify the use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm unless he used every reasonable means within his power and consistent with his own safety to avoid the danger before resorting to that force. The fact that the defendant [George Zimmerman] was wrongfully attacked cannot justify his use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm if by retreating he could have avoided the need to use that force."
Note that according to these jury instructions, the defendant must do everything possible, including retreating, before attempting to use deadly force.
When confronted with a threat in 2005 and before, whether it was a deadly threat or simply the threat of violence, or even when confronted with actual violence, like being punched in the face or knocked to the pavement, the legal obligation was to work yourself free and run.
All that changed in Florida in 2006, when Florida’s brand-spanking new and ALEC-promoted Stand Your Ground and Shoot First law came into effect.
Since 2006, post-Jeb Bush, post-Koch Brothers, and post-NRA and ALEC, the Stand Your Ground and Shoot First concept has become fully integrated into Florida’s law regarding self-defense and the use of deadly force.
This is why the jury instructions for the Zimmerman jury included Stand Your Ground language, because that language is now part of Florida’s laws about self-defense.
Listen carefully to the difference between the “You Must Retreat” language in the pre-2006 jury instructions and the instructions used in the Zimmerman trial. Remember, before 2006 Florida law said that even if the other guy started the fight, you still had an obligation to run. The old law read as follows:
“The fact that the defendant was wrongfully attacked cannot justify his use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm if by retreating he could have avoided the need to use that force."
By comparison, here are the Stand Your Ground instructions that actually were read to the Zimmerman jury:
“The danger facing George Zimmerman need not have been actual; however, to justify the use of deadly force, the appearance of danger must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force. Based upon appearances, George Zimmerman must have actually believed that the danger was real.