Can Florida Prove it Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?
On February 26, 2012 an unarmed boy, Trayvon Martin, was shot and killed by neighborhood crime watch person, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was eventually charged with 2nd degree murder in the killing, facing a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 25 years. In order to convict Zimmerman the State of Florida must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the murder with a depraved mind, which means it was a reckless act with a substantial likelihood of causing death, with little regard to human life.
Specific defenses to 2nd degree murder include excusable homicide, justifiable homicide, and self-defense. In Florida, self-defense is referred to as justifiable use of force, which allows a person to use force, sometimes deadly force, to protect one's self, one's property, or another person when he believes it is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. It is often referred to as the "Stand Your Ground" law" and is the defense that Zimmerman is claiming in this case. Zimmerman claims that he was confronted and attacked, and was being brutally beaten by the boy when he shot Martin to prevent his own imminent death or great bodily harm.
According to Black's Law Dictionary, reasonable doubt refers to the degree of certainty required for a juror to legally find a defendant not guilty. In simple terms, if a jury thinks that Zimmerman "probably" killed with a depraved mind, they must acquit. Merely having a hunch, or a feeling does not meet the high standard of certainty required under the law. If they believe anything less than Zimmerman acted recklessly and with no regard to human life when he pulled the trigger, then they cannot convict him as charged.
The burden of proof lies on the prosecution, and in fact, the defense is not even required to present evidence. However, in a self-defense case, knowing the defendant's state of mind at the time of the shooting, along with other material evidence will go a long way in establishing reasonable doubt. Of course the photos of Zimmerman's bloody head shortly after the shooting will impact the jury, but the best defense evidence may be Zimmerman himself. In order to establish that he was in fear of imminent death, thus justifying his actions, Zimmerman may have to take the stand. He will have to convince the jury that he had no duty to retreat from Martin and was justified in using his weapon because he believed that if he didn't he was going to die.
The state will present evidence that they believe supports their assertion that Zimmerman acted with a depraved mind. Among this evidence will be a 911 recording that captured Zimmerman following Martin, telling the dispatcher that he believed the boy was acting suspicious and how he thought the boy may have been carrying a weapon. The call captured him referring to Martin as one of "those people" who "always get away". He was directed to stop following the boy, but apparently did not comply. He carried a loaded weapon during a neighborhood watch patrol. The photo of his bloody head is dramatic evidence that the defense will present, but are those head wounds consistent with a brutal beating? His actions resulted in a young boy's death, but do these actions illustrate a depraved mind? How will a jury view his failure to end pursuit against Martin? Will they see him as an aggressor who used deadly force because he was losing a fight that he started? Did Martin have offensive wounds on his hands consistent with breaking someone's nose, and pounding their head into the ground? Or were they defensive wounds he endured as he fought for his own life? These are all questions the jury will have to decide.
Justice is a concept of moral and ethical rightness, and punishing those who breach it. But, the process of justice is dependant on the interpretation of evidence presented at trial. Its not so much a man's guilt or innocence that is central at trial, but the manner in which evidence is presented to a jury, and the effectiveness of counsel. It's difficult to predict how a jury will vote, but one thing is certain; Zimmerman is entitled to due process. Every relative of John Q Public will have an opinion on this case and the media will continue sensationalizing for ratings. In the end, justice is better served in a courtroom and not in the media. We may not have a perfect criminal justice system, and sometimes we are left perplexed with its decisons, but due process does not guarantee the most popular outcome. It only guarantees that George Zimmerman will recieve a fair trial and that his conviction will come only after reaching the standard of guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt. Some may not like the outcome, but we all must respect the process