Saturday, April 07, 2012

Is Florida's "stand your ground" law the reason Zimmerman has not been arrested?

Zimmerman claims Martin knocked him down and repeatedly smacked his head against the pavement. He says his gun was exposed during the scuffle and he feared Martin would grab it, so he drew the pistol and fired. In these circumstances, a right to "stand your ground" would make no difference, since there would be no feasible way to safely escape.

Under Florida law, the crucial question is whether Zimmerman reasonably believed deadly force was necessary to prevent Martin from killing or seriously injuring him. The same defense would have been available to him under the "duty to retreat" standard that applied in public places prior to 2005—even if Zimmerman threw the first punch.

Another change to the law seems more relevant: To arrest Zimmerman, police need "probable cause" to conclude not simply that he killed someone but also that his use of force was unlawful. Yet probable cause is the same test that applies to all other crimes, and if it has not been met so far the fault probably lies in an incomplete investigation, rather than the requirement that police have a "reasonable belief" a suspect broke the law before they charge him.

Showing probable cause, of course, is not the same as proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt—something to keep in mind if, as now seems likely, George Zimmerman's claims are scrutinized by a jury.


Detroit  Woman, 38, fatally shoots teen intruder:  "Police say a 38-year-old woman fatally shot a man who broke into her Detroit home.  Police say the woman on Thursday spotted the man, who was among a group breaking into her home. She got a gun and fired, killing a 19-year-old.  The other men fled and the homeowner was questioned by police. The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office was expected to review details of the shooting to determine whether charges would be filed."

WA:  Retired cop shoots, kills alleged burglar in his  home:  "A retired Puyallup police officer fatally shot a stranger armed with a crowbar who broke into his South Hill home Wednesday.   The homeowner was asleep when a noise woke him about 4:20 p.m. and he discovered several people in his house, in the 14300 block of 134th Avenue East.  “They kicked the door in and got in the house,” Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said. “They probably figured they were burglarizing an empty residence.”  The retired officer told deputies he opened fire because the person with the crowbar came at him. He called 911 to report the incident after the suspects – three men and one woman – fled in a maroon Chevy pickup.  Puyallup police were notified about 4:40 p.m. that a man had checked into the emergency room at Good Samaritan Hospital with a gunshot wound.  Officers quickly responded, believing he was one of the burglary suspects. The man, who has not been identified, was pronounced dead shortly after 5 p.m.  “Officers scoured the area around the hospital and located the truck in the parking garage of Good Sam,” police Capt. Dave McDonald said.  A male suspect in the truck and a female suspect who also went to the hospital were arrested."

Gun rights advocates win in Ill. court:  "The Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday to allow a challenge to Cook County, Ill.'s assault weapons ban to proceed.  The ruling reverses decisions by the lower state courts. Chicago is the county's seat. Gun rights advocates had argued the ban "violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the United States Constitution and violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms," Justice Mary Jane Theis said in her opinion. They also argued that the ban is too vague.  Under the ordinance ban, anyone "who prior to the enactment lawfully possessed assault weapons or large capacity magazines had 90 days from the effective date to surrender the weapons to the sheriff, to remove the weapons from the county or to modify the weapons to render them inoperable or no longer defined as an assault weapon."  Violations could bring a jail sentence of six months and a fine between $500 and $1,000.

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