November 2012 - Pg 6–President’s Message
by Marty Hayes, J.D.
The new judge, the Honorable Debra S. Nelson, has set a June 10, 2013 trial date in the ongoing prosecution of George Zimmerman for shooting an unarmed black teenager who was bashing Zimmerman’s head against a concrete sidewalk. Of course, there is a very likely chance the court date will be moved back, especially if the State of Florida keeps delaying and stalling the release of discovery (prosecution evidence).
What you might be wondering though, is what ever happened to the Stand Your Ground (SYG) aspect of the case? You remember that, don’t you? It is the statutory provision that people believe means that one does not have to worry about criminal prosecution if their shooting is “justified.” When I have a little extra time, I like to read the gun forums, and I see the comments all the time saying they don’t have to worry about the legal aftermath of a self-defense shooting because their state has a SYG law in place. I wonder how that philosophy is working out for Zimmerman now.
I have been saying for years that you still have to prove your innocence unless, of course, the prosecutor decides not to press charges.
This exact scenario is now playing out in Seminole County, Florida, where Zimmerman (according to news reports) will undergo a SYG hearing before the trial date. If, at that time, the judge decides that Zimmerman (to a preponderance of the evidence) did in fact reasonably use deadly force in self defense, then the case against Zimmerman will be dismissed AND statutory law eliminates any chance for a civil suit.
Or does it?
Statutory laws are presumed to be constitutional, but they are also subject to interpretation by the courts. Has the right to sue someone for the tort of battery or wrongful death despite a SYG ruling been subjected to judicial review? Perhaps one of our Florida attorneys can research this, but I know from personal interaction with the court system in Washington State, that we have a very active appellate court that routinely calls statutes passed by our legislature null and void, or at least, interprets the statute to mean something other than what it says.
After seeing a SYG statute in action in the Zimmerman case, I am not convinced they are the best thing for the armed citizen. Let me explain. First, if the shooting is not clear cut (and most aren’t), the defendant/armed citizen must still prepare (spend money) to participate in a SYG hearing. And, if the armed citizen faces a possibly anti-gun judge, anti-gun prosecutor and possibly anti-gun sentiment in their local area, then the armed citizen who is being prosecuted simply must prepare the same way for the SYG hearing as they would for a trial.
That preparation calls for the expert witnesses who must be secured and paid for, along with a full and complete investigation by defense investigators. The legal team of attorneys and paralegals must dig into all the prosecution’s evidence, and (at least in Florida) end up talking with and deposing all the witnesses expected to testify at trial.