Facts not in dispute:
1. Zimmerman, in his role as a community watch participant, found Martin to be suspicious, dialed 911 and informed them of his concerns, and then followed Martin after emergency services asked him not to do so.
2. Zimmerman expressed concern that the police would not find/locate the person he was following if he ceased following.
3. Zimmerman exited his vehicle and ended up in an altercation with Martin.
4. Zimmerman used lethal force against Martin.
5. Martin had a legitimate reason to be on foot in that neighborhood: Zimmerman's initial suspicions were unfounded.
Zimmerman alleges that after he exited his vehicle, Martin attacked him and made him fear for his own imminent death. Since Martin was unarmed, he is claiming to have believed that Martin was going to kill him with his bare hands.http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/ind ... Index.html
has the relevant state law.
The really interesting part to me:
776.031 Use of force in defense of others.—A person is justified in the use of force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate the other’s trespass on, or other tortious or criminal interference with, either real property other than a dwelling or personal property, lawfully in his or her possession or in the possession of another who is a member of his or her immediate family or household or of a person whose property he or she has a legal duty to protect. However, the person is justified in the use of deadly force only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person does not have a duty to retreat if the person is in a place where he or she has a right to be.
776.041 Use of force by aggressor.—The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.
Martin was a minor, on foot in a private-property neighborhood where he had a legal right to be. Zimmerman was an adult, armed and following Martin in a vehicle. It's extremely likely that Martin was within his own
"Stand Your Ground" right to use non-violent force against Zimmerman, under 776.031. By asserting that Martin did not have a right to be on property where he was an invited guest, Martin could reasonably have assumed that Zimmerman was violating the property rights of the person who invited Martin; as a member of that person's household, Martin had a right to defend her property rights with non-lethal violence.
So, 776.031 says that Martin, feeling personally menaced, has a right to kick Zimmerman's ass in order to get Zimmerman to stop trying to illegally intimidate him into leaving property where he has a right to be.
776.041 says that Zimmerman, by provoking that confrontation, loses his own "stand your ground" rights. He can still use deadly force only if he legitimately believes he will die from the ass-kicking, and
has exhausted every means at his disposal to escape the confrontation--including attempts to retreat.
- The conflict should not have happened, and it's Zimmerman's fault as an overzealous neighborhood watch captain that it did happen.
- In cases like this where a neighborhood watch captain has made a mistake about whether or not someone else is violating the neighborhood's collective private-property rights, "Stand Your Ground" law is defined such that neither
party has a duty to retreat.
- By contrast, if Zimmerman's suspicions about Martin had been correct and Martin had
been trespassing on private property, Martin's decision to escalate the conflict to violence would have given Zimmerman the right to use deadly force in response.
- Since Zimmerman is enforcing property rights on behalf of others and does not have perfect knowledge of who those others might have invited onto the property, he has no way of knowing prior to using deadly force whether or not he has the right to use such force.
- Zimmerman guessed wrong.
- Zimmerman was in a position of needing to guess because he was trying to enforce property rights for a community so big that he could not reasonably have known who was invited to be on the property and who wasn't.
- If Zimmerman is allowed to use force (lethal or otherwise) in situations where he has to guess, and if he still has immunity even in cases where he guesses wrong and uses lethal force to get himself out of a legal ass-kicking at the hands of the other party, then Florida has a law where the narrow right to use lethal force trumps the broader right to use non-lethal force.
- To me, that's a broken law, and would effectively legalize duels to the death between two people who both have the legal right to access a Common Element of any communally owned property, as long as the winner is willing to assert that be believed the loser was there illegally and that a punch was thrown prior to the fatal gunshot.
All of this is pretty close to the best-case scenario, too. It's possible Zimmerman is simply lying about having been attacked by Martin, and initiated the scuffle and then shot the kid after he fought back. Likewise, it's possible that the public streets in that gated community are still legally public property, in which case Zimmerman had even less right to confront Martin and Martin had even less duty to retreat from Zimmerman's intimidation.
In my opinion it's actually counterproductive to speculate about why
Zimmerman thought that Martin was trespassing. Is it worse if Zimmerman thought Martin was suspicious because he was black than for some other reason? I don't see how. To me all that matters is that Zimmerman made the accusation incorrectly, killed someone in the ensuing confrontation, and is still claiming self defense. You don't know for sure whether someone is allowed to be on the property, you pick a fight with them about it, and then shoot them for throwing a punch that they probably had a legal right to throw? That's messed up regardless of why you decided the issue was worth picking a fight over.
I think that even people who think that statute is good law should be able to agree that you shouldn't be able to claim to be protecting private property when it's a Common Element owned by that large of a community association.