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Can Florida Prove it Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?

Updated on May 16, 2012

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.


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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

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    • JessMcCray profile image

      JessMcCray 5 years ago from NYC

      this situation has gotten out of hand. How can he even get a fair trial with media circus that has followed this case. I personally couldnt serve on a jury because from what I have seen and heard, I feel he is guilty, he chased Trayvon and if he got hurt he instigated the fight and is therefore responsible for the ramifications of his actions. No matter the outcome some will not be pleased.

    • Marie-Kelly profile image
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      Marie-Kelly 5 years ago from Port Saint Lucie, Florida

      I agree the media has turned this case into a circus and may have even fueled the flames of racism. I don't think it would have been such a spectacle if he would have been immediately arrested and charged, even if he were later found not guilty. The outrage came when it appeared that he would get away with the killing by merely claiming self defense. It appeared that they were taking his word for it. Personally, I'm not convinced that he was justified because the force he used exceeded the force used against him. The picture of his head may show blood, but where are the gashing wounds from the vicious beating he allegedly recieved? Where is the broken nose? Reasonable doubt?

    • kschang profile image

      kschang 5 years ago from San Francisco, CA, USA

      Just the pictures used in itself is showing media bias.

      Zimmerman is now slightly bald. That picture is from a short prison stay he did several YEARS ago. He even LOOKS guilty in that picture.

      The Martin picture was "undated provided by family", and is believed to be several years old as well. You see a much younger kid that looks as "innocent" as possible.

      Try comparing much more recent photos, and see if you got a different opinion:

      http://i120.photobucket.com/albums/o173/gulesiame/...

    • ata1515 profile image

      ata1515 5 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      The argument kschang is trying to make is that the media is biased to create a story.

      If Zimmerman was attacked all his lawyers will have to show is that he felt his life was in danger to get him off, which depending on the evidence may in fact be the correct decision in this call.

    • Marie-Kelly profile image
      Author

      Marie-Kelly 5 years ago from Port Saint Lucie, Florida

      Thank you for helping me understand kschang better. I think it will take more than just proving he was attacked to justify using deadly force. From what we have seen so far, do you think they can prove it? I hope they have more evidence because if I were on the jury I wouldn't be convinced that he was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm. Not enough to warrant killing. There is evidence of a struggle but not of a life threatening beating.

    • JessMcCray profile image

      JessMcCray 5 years ago from NYC

      The media is always bias it's a well known fact, be it an unfortunate one as the point of journalism is to report not give slanted opinions, but I digress. While on the stand during his bond healing giving an apology which the Martin family did not want, I personally thought was a good idea, he said he thought Trayvon was older than he was. Yet on the 911 tapes in his discription of Martin he said he looked like he was in his late teens. Zimmerman took his watchman status beyond his authority, ignoring police orders to stop following Trayvon to a point where he was engaging in vigilantism. If the Sanford police would have investigated to begin with this situation would be completely different. Now we have activists on both side using this to their advantage to push their personal agendas and that's a shame. Zimmerman cannot get a fair trial and Trayvon is still dead

    • Marie-Kelly profile image
      Author

      Marie-Kelly 5 years ago from Port Saint Lucie, Florida

      You are so right. We are already seeing some inconsistencies in his statements. I'm sure his attorney encouraged him to apologize as a way to humanize him and show remorse, but they can't unring a bell. It will be interesting to see what happens if/when he takes the stand to explain why he felt his life was in jeopardy. I know how much defense attorneys hate to put their clients on the stand, but it is difficult to see how they could argue self defense without doing so.

    • normanwinkfield profile image

      Norman Winkfield 5 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

      Hi Marie,

      You sound like a seasoned court reporter. You made it amazingly interesting for me to see the course of how justice is played out in the court room. I'm sure the ending will be bitter sweet, but it will be justice. Mr. Zimmerman's story that the kid almost beat him to death is no joke. The fact that he chased the kid could easily get lost in lawyer's retoric and George could walk a free man to kill again. Or I should say to defend his-self again from people he has doubt about them being up to no good or not. Good writing and welcome to hubpages.

    • Marie-Kelly profile image
      Author

      Marie-Kelly 5 years ago from Port Saint Lucie, Florida

      Thank you normanwinkfield! Your feedback was greatly welcomed and appreciated.

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