The controversy over the shooting of 17 yr old Tayvon Martin by the neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, rose to a new level yesterday. The chief of police was given a vote of "no confidence" by the city council. As most of us know now, the African American boy was in the gated community taking a short cut home when he was chased and gunned down while carrying only some candy and a soda. Is the chief of police hiding behind "self defense" in failing to charge the shooter with murder? The newly released 911 calls reveal that Zimmerman was told that he should not pursue Tayvon, but continued despite the warning. So what are the basic facts that one should know about "self defense"?
The jury instruction for self defense in California may differ from Florida. California CALCRIM 3475 appears to be what San Diego Defenders Lawyers would be forced to argue to a jury, if we had the unenviable task of defending the shooter, Zimmerman. Jury instruction are given to the jury to explain the law shortly before they are sent to deliberate on a case. The jury instruction is summarized as follows, inserting Victim Martin's and Shooter Zimmerman's names:
The lawful occupant, Zimmerman, of a property, (The Retreat at Twin Lakes) may request that the trespasser (Martin) leave the property. If the trespasser (Martin) does not leave in a reasonable time and it would appear to a reasonable person that the trespasser (Martin) poses a threat to the property occupant (Zimmerman), the occupant may use reasonable force to make the trespasser leave.
So what is reasonable force? It is the amount of force that is necessary, according to the instruction. All reports indicate that the Martin was running away from the rather large Zimmerman. And although the amount of force may be increased if the trespasser resists. Really? Well, consider the circumstances, that is what the jury instruction says. In this case, Zimmerman claims the boy was looking around, maybe "casing" homes for a burglary. So Zimmerman ran him down and eventually shot him while the boy, Martin, was calling his father on his cell phone.
The jury can consider whether the defendant's beliefs were reasonable even if the danger never existed. Representing the accused is a tough job, and at San Diego Defenders, we deal with all kinds of crimes. Last year, on of our lawyers was successful in defeating a "strike" charge using the self defense argument where our client was protecting his father after a scuffle at the border with the victim. In that case it was an "imperfect self defense" which allowed the jury to find there was no intent to personally cause great bodily injury. To avoid a strike is to win a case to most criminal defense lawyers.
A good criminal defense lawyer knows that the prosecution has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant used more force that was reasonably necessary. Therefore, if Mr. Zimmerman is ever charged with murder, you can probably expect to hear that Zimmerman thought that the victim Martin's cell phone was a gun or some other deadly weapon. You can bet Mr. Zimmerman's life on it . Sadly, 17 yr old Tayvon Martin's is already gone.
Fortunately, good criminal defense attorneys (619) 258-8888 know that it will ultimately be the decision of the jury. And, as lawyers, we are sworn to represent our clients zealously. It is our job.