Over the past week, I’ve heard endlessly from various talking heads that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law had nothing to do with George Zimmerman’s acquittal for killing Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman, they said, was actually acquitted on ordinary grounds of self defense. I’ve gotten really tired of hearing this obvious misconception, and today Mark Follman and Lauren Williams finally demolish it for good. You should read the whole thing, but here’s the key bit:
The jury instructions—and a reason for their verdict: Just because Zimmerman’s defense team didn’t bring up Stand Your Ground in the trial (more on that below), that doesn’t mean the law was irrelevant to the jury’s decision. To the contrary, Judge Debra Nelson made clear in the jury instructions (PDF) that they should consider the law:
If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
And consider it they did. According to the most outspoken juror, known only as Juror B-37, Stand Your Ground was key to reaching their verdict. She told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an interview that neither second-degree murder nor manslaughter applied in Zimmerman’s case “because of the heat of the moment and the ‘stand your ground.’ He had a right to defend himself. If he felt threatened that his life was going to be taken away from him or he was going to have bodily harm, he had a right.”
Let’s at least get the basic facts right in this case. “Stand Your Ground” did play a role. There’s really not much doubt about it.
UPDATE: Hmmm. I’m getting some pushback from lawyer types who say that the judge’s instructions are based on common law, not SYG. Maybe. But Judge Nelson had to know that SYG had been the subject of enormous public scrutiny over the past year. It’s hard to believe she’d use the phrase without clarification if she was basing her instructions solely on common law.