Zimmerman Lawyer Speaks at Gun Conference
Taking his client’s much-discussed right to bear arms on the road, George Zimmerman’s defense lawyer was a featured speaker at the 27th Annual Gun Rights Policy Conference in Orlando on Sept. 29.
Attorney Mark M. O’Mara tried to walk a fine line: He admitted that if he hadn’t been representing the defendant in one of the most talked-about trials in recent memory, he would not have been invited to speak at the conference, according to WFTV. But he also refused to discuss the facts of the case.
O’Mara’s “Spectrum of Self Defense”
O’Mara’s presentation, titled “Protecting the Right to Protect,” did address the stand your ground (SYG) defense and indicated Zimmerman would seek a hearing for self-defense immunity in general, according to a spokesperson for his law practice.
“If you shoot, or use deadly force because you have to and you decide not to retreat, our statute says that’s okay,” O’Mara said. “You don’t have to retreat, you don’t have to turn your back on the assailant for fear of what else might happen.”
O’Mara will ask for a “self-defense immunity hearing,” according to his spokesperson, who clarified that O’Mara spoke about the “spectrum of self-defense” available under Florida law. The spokesperson said that O’Mara indicated that SYG “only represents a small percentage of self-defense cases, on the far end of the spectrum” and that at this point, he is simply seeking the hearing and not committing to whether Zimmerman will specifically claim SYG.
Florida added to its self-defense law in 2005 – thus earning the “stand your ground” label for the law – when it waived the duty to retreat a defendant would normally have had under traditional self-defense. Thus, in Florida, if you believe you are in danger of great bodily injury or death, you can use deadly force without having to show you could have retreated – the key for Zimmerman, it would appear.
Stand Your Ground
The self-defense immunity hearing – often called an SYG hearing, its unofficial nickname – would basically be a mini-trial held to determine “whether George Zimmerman reasonably believed that his use of his weapon was necessary to prevent great bodily harm to himself at the hands of Trayvon Martin,” according to O’Mara in an earlier post on the GZ Legal Case site.
O’Mara’s right that the first question is whether Zimmerman believed he was protecting himself against great bodily harm when he shot and killed the unarmed Martin. But under Florida’s justifiable-use-of-force statute, the justification is not available to someone who initially provoked the confrontation.
There are two exceptions to provocation rule, which would presumably justify Zimmerman’s killing of Martin: if the force used by Martin was so great that Zimmerman, again, reasonably believed he’d exhausted every way to escape and the only way to escape was to kill him; or Zimmerman was clearly trying to withdraw his initial use of force, but Martin kept it up.
SYG Controversial Elsewhere
Florida is one of 12 states with some version of a law covering justifiable use of force. Many of these laws cover the use of deadly force to defend one’s home, and they are often controversial.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, which studied nearly 200 Florida SYG cases and outcomes in July, “Cases with similar facts show surprising — sometimes shocking — differences in outcomes. . . . depend[ing] . . . on who you are, whom you kill and where your case is decided.”
Sixty-eight percent of defendants who claimed protection under SYG walked, but that number was higher if the victim was black, as in Zimmerman’s case, according to the Times. “[P]eople who killed a black person walked free 73 percent of the time, while those who killed a white person went free 59 percent of the time.”
In this case, Zimmerman is going for broke first: a self-defense immunity hearing is held in front of the judge only – and not a jury – and if Judge Nelson rules in his favor, he won’t even have to have a trial. He can still argue self defense to a jury if he loses on immunity at the hearing.
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