A nifty medley from Andrew Johnson at the Corner of our media collectively deciding what social justice now requires after the Zimmerman verdict. (Dick Durbin announced just this morning that he’ll be holding a Senate hearing on “stand your ground” laws, on the theory, I guess, that state legislatures are somehow incapable of doing so themselves.) Anyway: Is it true, as many supporters of the verdict have claimed, that “Stand Your Ground” had nothing to do with the outcome of the trial? Well, yes. And no. But also yes.
Had he chose, Zimmerman could have demanded a “Stand Your Ground” hearing in the pre-trial phase. If the judge had ruled in his favor, the charges would have been thrown out. He waived his right to that hearing, which means the media obsession with SYG is a total non sequitur, sort of like their obsession with gun laws post-Newtown that would have done zip to stop Adam Lanza. Right? Not exactly. The concept of standing your ground, i.e. having no duty to retreat when force is being used against you, is also part of the general self-defense law that Zimmerman did successfully invoke in being acquitted. From the jury instructions:
If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
Thirty-one states impose no duty to retreat on someone before they’re allowed to use force in their own defense versus just 19 that do. But wait — how do we know that SYG actually factored into the jury’s deliberations and affected the outcome? Just because the judge charged it doesn’t mean it mattered in the end. Well, thanks to juror B37, there’s circumstantial evidence to think that it did:
Juror B37: After hours and hours and hours of deliberating over the law, and reading it over and over and over again, we decided there’s just no way … because of the heat of the moment and the Stand Your Ground …
Cooper: Even though it’s he [Zimmerman] who had gotten out of the car, followed Trayvon Martin, that didn’t matter in the deliberations? What mattered was those final seconds, minutes, when there was an altercation, and … in your mind the most important thing was whether or not George Zimmerman felt his life was in danger?
Juror: That’s how we read the law. That’s how we got to the point of everybody being “not guilty.”
Cooper: So that was the belief of the jury, that you had to zero in on those final minutes/seconds, about the threat that George Zimmerman believed he faced?
Juror: That’s exactly what had happened.
That’s just one juror’s read on the situation, not all six, but obviously SYG did make it into the jury room. The question is, would the verdict have been different if Florida law imposed a duty to retreat instead? I’m thinking probably not. If you believe Zimmerman’s version of the fight, which the jurors apparently did, Martin ambushed him with a punch, knocking him to the ground, and then jumped on top of him to continue the beating. There was no opportunity for “retreat,” a point also made by Jacob Sullum at Reason. The duty to retreat affects the outcome here only if you extend the concept of “retreat” temporally to apply before there was any confrontation. I.e. Zimmerman got out of his car to keep an eye on Martin, ergo he’s guilty of manslaughter for not letting the other guy bang his head on the concrete subsequently. Is that a more just result? Does it matter, for that matter, that even “stand your ground” laws don’t apply if the person claiming self-defense is found to have provoked the use of force against himself? How far does the left want to stretch the concept of “retreat” here?
Don’t take any of this too seriously, though. Like I said yesterday, the SYG outcry is less about the particulars of the Zimmerman case and more about giving liberals something to rally around for the midterms when the DOJ inevitably decides not to prosecute Zimmerman. This is politics.