In recent times, no court case has attracted as much attention as that of George Zimmerman. In this text, I summarize the most significant facts of the said case and explore the key laws that were violated. Further, amongst other things, I will also summarize the outcome of the case and my opinion on the outcome.
The State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman
The Case in Brief: A Summary of Important Facts
Charged with second-degree murder in one of the most publicized court cases in recent times, George Zimmerman was on 13 July declared a free man after the jury deemed it fit to render a not guilty verdict. The charge in this case stemmed from the shooting to death of an individual by the name Trayvon Martin. Pursuant to the said shooting, the state charged that Zimmerman stalked and shot at Martin who was unarmed at the time of his shooting. There was also no evidence that Martin was committing a crime at the time of his shooting. It is on the strength of this argument that an affidavit of probable cause was filed by the State of Florida. In the words of Gaines and Miller (2009), "probable cause exists if there is a substantial likelihood that (1) a crime was committed and (2) the individual committed the crime" (p.233). This particular case brought to the fore a number of issues. To begin with, the case questioned what constitutes self-defense. In his courtroom defense, Zimmerman all along maintained that in shooting Martin, he was merely acting in self-defense. There was also the question as to whether Zimmerman took the law into his own hands after "profiling" his would-be victim as a criminal. At one point, the court was told that Zimmerman acted on the assumption that Martin was up to no good.
The Laws that were Violated
As I have already pointed out elsewhere in this text, Zimmerman's charge was essentially for second-degree murder. In the words of Scheb (2011), second-degree murder is generally "defined as an unlawful killing of a human being by a person having a depraved mind or heart" (p.136). It is regarded a higher (and hence more serious) crime than manslaughter. For an individual to be charged with second-degree murder, it should be clearly shown that the said individual did not in any way plan the murder for which he is charged in advance. In the case of The State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman therefore, the prosecution was of the opinion that Zimmerman lacked the intent to kill Martin. In specific terms, a murder in this case had been committed. However, the said murder had not been premeditated.
Before describing or defining the possible penalties for the crime committed by Zimmerman, it would be prudent to take into consideration the other degree of murder and the resulting penalties. In the United States, murder is commonly classified into two, i.e. first-degree and second-degree (Clark and Ansay, 2002). An individual is charged with first-degree murder if such an individual plans the offense in advance. For those found guilty of first-degree murder, the mandatory sentencing is usually life sentence or death sentence. On the other hand, those found guilty of second-degree murder face a maximum sentence of life in jail. It should however be noted that in those instances where a firearm is found to have been used, the defendant must serve a minimum of 25 years in jail. In the case of The State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman, a firearm was used. If convicted, Zimmerman could therefore have spent a minimum of 25 years behind bars or a maximum of life in prison. It is important to note that the penalties in this case differ from state to state. The penalty stated above with regard to second degree murder applies to the state of Florida.
The case I concern myself with in this text was heard in the 18th Judicial Circuit court in Florida. Debra Nelson was the sitting judge in the case. In that regard therefore, the case was heard in the state court system. It is important to note that in basic terms, a court can only hear and determine a case if it has jurisdiction. There are several jurisdictional requirements that can be clearly identified in this particular case. To begin with, the crime committed by Zimmerman took place within the court's geographic boundaries. Secondly, both Zimmerman and the murder victim lived within the geographical boundaries of the court. Next, with regard to subject matter jurisdiction, it should be noted that the nature of the crime essentially meant that the case could not have been handled by a lower court. In basic terms therefore, the fact that the State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman case did not involve citizens residing in different states and the fact that the case did not bring to the fore a question of federal law per se made it necessary for the case to be heard and determined in the state court system.
The Outcome of the Case in Brief
Throughout his trial, Zimmerman according to Botelho and Yan (2013) did not deny shooting and killing Martin. However, the defendant maintained that his actions were motivated by the need to ensure his own safety. He shot at Martin in self-defense. In the end, "a Florida jury found him not guilty in the teenager's death" (Botelho and Yan, 2013). As the authors further point out, this particular case had six jurors.
In discussing the jury's verdict it would be prudent to point out that the judge had permitted the jury to also take into consideration a lesser offense of manslaughter. According to Botelho and Yan (2013), the jury had three main choices at their disposal in developing their verdict. The first choice was to find the accused guilty of the original charge -- second-degree murder. The jury also had the option of giving a guilt verdict for the lesser offense of manslaughter that had been included later on. Finally, the jury had the option of returning a not guilty verdict. After deliberating on the various facts as well as circumstances of the case before it, the jury deemed it fit to settle for the last option. But what exactly lead the jurors to return this particular verdict? According to Botelho and Yan (2013), for the jurors to convict the defendant of manslaughter, the evidence before them would have had to clearly indicate that Zimmerman's actions were intentional, that is, he intended to kill Martin.
My Take on the Outcome of the Case
In my opinion, the not guilty verdict returned by the jury was not only fair but also appropriate. To begin with, it is important to note that Florida already has a law in place referred to as the Stand Your Ground law. This law according to Siegel (2009) permits or allows individuals "to use force in a wide variety of circumstances and eliminate or curtail the need for retreat, even if they are not in their own home but in a public place" (p.92). According to the author, this particular law allows individuals to utilize deadly force in those circumstances where there is reason to believe that a forcible felony is about to be committed. According to Zimmerman, Martin attacked him after their brief encounter and in the ensuing struggle, a gun was pulled out and someone shot. The fact that Zimmerman was trying to defend himself makes the Stand Your Ground law absolutely relevant in this particular case. Indeed, this very law was essentially the cornerstone of Zimmerman's defense. The fact that the prosecution was unable to sustain its burden of proof is yet another indicator that Zimmerman was innocent.