In the state of Florida, we have statutes which dictate the “Justifiable Use of Force”. The 2012 Florida Statutes discuss this in Chapter 776 of Title XLVI.
This chapter starts out with section 776.012 – Use of force in defense of person. It states the following…
A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:
(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s.776.013 (let me save you some time. This statue referred to here is regarding breaking into a home and using deadly force in protection of one’s home. We can safely assume this is not the case with regard to Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman as George Zimmerman has never stated that he witnessed Martin breaking into or trying to break into a home.)
For me, the most interesting part of this chapter is section 776.041 – Use of force by aggressor. It states the following…
The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.
We’ve reached a crossroads. Unfortunately for Martin, he is not alive to tell his side of the story. However; given witness statements, 911 calls and Zimmerman’s own admission, George Zimmerman did in fact follow and then get out of his car and pursue Martin. This begs me to ask the question, was Martin scared? Did Martin fear that this person who admittedly was following him intended to do him harm? How can we possibly know? Well, we could take a stab at some educated guesses.
1. George Zimmerman has stated that Trayvon Martin walked directly past Zimmerman’s parked car on two separate occasions the night Martin was shot and killed by Zimmerman. As far as testimony in court has shown, at no time did Martin threaten Zimmerman during those two encounters. For what it’s worth, my guess is that Martin didn’t know who was following him and wanted to walk up and get a closer look; and upon not recognizing Zimmerman, Martin continued to make his was towards his home (probably thinking “who the hell is this guy and is he going to try to harm me?).
2. Next Zimmerman, again by his own admission, got out of his car and continued to pursue Martin. Again, my guess is that Martin saw this and was certainly at this point scared, or at a minimum concerned for his safety.
This is key in understanding whether Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin was justified. The legal definition of “Assault” is “an act that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent, harmful, or offensive contact.” If I’m being followed by an unknown person on a dark, rainy night; I’m likely to be scared. If that person continues to follow me by getting out of his car and I am afraid for my personal safety, it is a logical step to assume that an assault is occurring.
Next, let’s discuss the definition of “aggressor”. All dictionaries say basically the same thing in identifying an “aggressor” as one that engages in aggression. Ok, so what is “aggression”? Again, my search finds “the act of initiating hostilities” and “hostile or destructive behavior or actions”. Luckily for you and I , we don’t have to guess. Florida law dictates its own definition of “aggressor”. It is referred to as “The First Aggressor Rule”, which is a rather simple common law rule that says “a defendant who provokes an encounter as a result of which he finds it necessary to use deadly force to defend himself, is guilty of an unlawful homicide and cannot claim that he acted in self-defense.”
Let’s go back to Florida Statute 776.041. This statute indicates that an aggressor is not permitted the luxury of using lethal force during an altercation unless he’s exhausted all efforts to stop an attack.
Zimmerman is Guilty
It is my opinion that Zimmerman provoked Martin, and almost certainly by the legal definition assaulted Martin. Whether Martin attacked Zimmerman or Zimmerman simply grabbed Martin and told him to wait for the police, it is my opinion that Zimmerman did not have the right to do so. In a nutshell, this is why Martin’s death was not justifiable. Even if Martin physically attacked Zimmerman (threw the first punch), it was justified as it is reasonable to believe that Martin was in fear for his life after being assaulted (by the legal definition) by Zimmerman. Additionally, the injuries sustained by Zimmerman do not show someone who’s life was in danger and had exhausted all available options (short of shooting Martin) to flee from the altercation. Zimmerman didn’t even walk away with a concussion for God’s sake!