Just days after the jury verdict of Not Guilty in the George Zimmerman trial, many celebrities and some political figures have called for abolition of the “stand your ground” law. Although “stand your ground” was not exactly the defense that Mr. Zimmerman presented, it raises some issues moving forward. What are our duties and our rights with regard to self defense? Will they be altered after Trayvon Martin?
Self Defense is an affirmative defense, which means that you are admitting you did the crime, but your were legally justified in doing so. In all criminal cases, the State of Florida has the burden of proving that a crime was committed, beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. If the affirmative defense of self defense is raised, the State of Florida has the burden of proving that the acts were not committed in self defense, beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. To raise the issue of self defense, the defendant must establish evidence that he acted as a result of his reasonable belief that he was in fear of immediate danger to himself or another person. Self defense includes the defense of others.
First, it must be made clear that the legal standards are not “innocent” and “guilty”. The legal standards are “guilty” and “not guilty.” If the State cannot meet the burden of proof in their case against a defendant, the jury has a duty to find the defendant not guilty. “Not guilty” and “innocent” are not the same thing.
So, the first question is, should self defense be a legal affirmative defense? The Answer in my opinion is yes. If I give up my right to defend myself, I am no longer a free man. the second question is, should we continue to have juries decide the facts of the case, or should that be up to a judge or someone else? I mean, that is the real heart of this discussion in the Trayvon Martin case, after all. Many people are very disappointed in the decision that was made by the jury.
In my opinion, there is no better decider of the facts than a jury. State Attorneys, judges and defense attorneys tend to get jaded after years of practice in the world of criminal law. My observation is that defendants are guilty until proven innocent, both in the court of public opinion, and the court of law, at least until that defendant demands a jury trial. Once that trial begins, the Constitution kicks in and it is an incredible process to watch unfold. I have never seen a jury that didn’t take their job very, very seriously. They are given a scenario in backwards order. They are told the facts of the case throughout the trial, and they are told to listen for the facts that prove each element of the crimes charged. But, they are not told what those elements are until the very end. While that seems unusual, it makes sense. The idea is for the jury to get the big picture, and then to try to fit that picture into a particular frame. If that frame doesn’t fit, then it is the jury’s job to let everyone know. It is not the jury’s job to jam the picture into the frame if it doesn’t fit, and it is not the jury’s job to find a new frame.
In the Trayvon Martin case, no matter how you slice it, the picture did not fit the frame. There were too many holes, allowing light and contamanets to creep through. Our founding fathers made the decision that it was better to exonerate a guilty man that to punish an innocent one. That is the whole point behind our criminal justice system, and the high burden of proof that must be met. While that may not give comfort to the family of any victim, that is not neccesarily the job of the justice system either. Like many cases, no one really knows what happened in the incident involving George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, except George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. But one thing is clear, the State did not come close to presenting any evidence that proved Zimmerman’s story was untrue, beyond a reasonable doubt. the jury had no choice but to find Zimmerman, Not Guilty.