The State of Florida vs. Zimmerman (Zimmerman) will continue to baffle legal scholars and court observers for years to come. This is a truly historic case. Unfortunately, Zimmerman will be historic for all the wrong reasons. It will be known both as a symbol of justice and injustice. How is that so? Some will point to this case as evidence of the bias that permeates the justice system and others will state the jury has spoken. The sad truth is both sides are correct. Both sides are correct because George Zimmerman may not have been guilty of second-degree murder but he is guilty of a crime. Notwithstanding the criminal profiling that obviously took place prior to the chase, one could possibly make an argument that the facts and the evidence did not support Zimmerman had any ill-will, spite or hatred toward Trayvon. Nevertheless there was a crime committed and facts show that Zimmerman would be guilty of felony murder. Allow me to make my case.
Simply put, felony murder is an unlawful killing of a human being by a person engaged in the commission of or in the attempt to perpetrate an inherently dangerous felony. Florida lists these dangerous felonies statutorily. To name a few robbery, kidnapping, and aggravated child abuse are listed as dangerous felonies. Additionally a felony murder charge does not require that the perpetrator intend to kill or that the perpetrator personally commit the killing. The only thing a felony murder charge requires is that the prosecutor present evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that shows that the perpetrator either committed a dangerous felony or at least attempted to commit a dangerous felony. Therefore, in this case the prosecutor would have to present facts sufficient to find that Zimmerman intended to commit a dangerous felony, and as a result of that action Trayvon Martin was killed beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution does not need to show that Zimmerman intended to kill Trayvon.
Also evidentiary speaking charging second-degree murder would essentially handicap the prosecution as far as presenting evidence of Zimmerman’s character or prior bad acts. In Florida, a defendant in a self-defense case may present evidence of the victim’s propensity and/or criminal acts in order to show the victim was the aggressor. Furthermore, the defendant may also present evidence of victim’s criminal convictions as evidence of the victim’s character. On the other hand, the prosecution can only rebut this evidence with reputation evidence of the victim’s good character. The prosecution would not even be able to present evidence of the defendant’s character for the same traits the defendant claims the victim possessed. Had this been a federal case, the prosecution would have been able to bring up the same character traits the defendant put into play, but Florida does not follow such a rule. Thus, a felony murder charge would have been a superior choice evidentiary speaking.
More importantly a felony murder charge will eliminate self-defense as a defense to a killing unlike a manslaughter, first-degree, or second-degree murder charge. Self-defense is not a defense to a felony murder charge. For instance a person who intends on robbing a store cannot use self-defense as a defense if after he attempts to or commits the robbery, the storeowner pulls a gun on him. This is true even if the perpetrator did not truly intend on killing/harming anyone when he entered the store. Neither can a person claim self-defense if he attempts to or commits a kidnapping and the victim fights back. Just think about it. If a perpetrator attempted to abduct a child and the child resisted the abduction, perhaps even with deadly force, could the perpetrator then use deadly force to counter the child’s (or any victim’s) use of deadly force to save his own life? No! Only the victim of a dangerous felony may use (deadly) force. Not the perpetrator.
Florida defines kidnapping as forcibly, secretly, or by threat confining or imprisoning another person against their will and without lawful authority, with intent to hold for ransom or reward, or to commit or facilitate commission of any felony, or to terrorize the victim, or interfere with the performance of any governmental function. The great thing about kidnapping statute in Florida is the inclusion of the word “or,” which means that the prosecution does not need to prove all of the above. Rather the prosecution only needs to show the victim was held for any one of the following: for ransom, reward, to be terrorized, battered, or that the perpetrator interfered with a government function or committed any felony. Moreover Trayvon is a minor. Minors cannot consent. Thus, Trayvon could not have consented to being held.
Could not the prosecution have presented facts to show that Zimmerman intended to hold Trayvon against his will by threat of force when he confronted Trayvon? Could the prosecution perhaps shown that Zimmerman intended to hold Trayvon for reward – it is an undisputed fact Zimmerman wanted to be a police officer, was training, and was taking the law into his own hands. Could the prosecution not have shown Zimmerman intended to hold Trayvon until the police got there with the hopes of impressing the Sanford Police Department? Could not the prosecution argue that Zimmerman interfered with a governmental function when he failed to adhere to the non-emergency operator after he was told to cease his pursuit of Trayvon because the police were on their way? Could not the prosecution have shown that Zimmerman held Trayvon against his will secretly when Zimmerman refused to identify himself in order to keep him to a bounded area? Do the facts show that Trayvon was terrorized when he was stalked for close to two minutes by Zimmerman in a vehicle and subsequently chased without Zimmerman identifying himself? Yes! As Zimmerman himself stated, “He ran!”
The evidence was there. And most important of all the prosecution does not have to show Zimmerman intended death. In fact, the prosecution could legally argue that Zimmerman may have intended good. Zimmerman wanted to rid his neighborhood of suspicious people; but good intentions do not matter when a person holds another unlawfully against their will.
Even if the prosecution could not show the above. The prosecution could show that Zimmerman profiled Trayvon and as a result of his actions, falsely imprisoned him by getting into an altercation with him. False imprisonment is a felony in Florida and self-defense is not a defense to false imprisonment as well. Under Florida law, holding a person against their will for even a mere second is enough to charge the perpetrator with a third-degree felony. For example a false imprisonment results when no felony has occurred and an individual suspects or believes another to have committed a felony (such as a robbery) and the individual holds the suspected felon against their will – a citizen’s arrest. If the suspected felon has not committed a felony and/or no felony has in fact been committed a false imprisonment results. Only sworn police officers are privileged to hold another against their will when no felony has in fact been committed. Thus, in this case if Zimmerman suspected Trayvon of committing a felony-crime and attempted to detain or detained Trayvon for even a mere second, Zimmerman would be guilty of false imprisonment or attempted false imprisonment because ZImmerman is not a sworn officer and he did not have reasonable grounds to believe Trayvon in fact committed a felony.
Unfortunately, the sad truth is that the prosecution did not effectively charge Zimmerman. The prosecution did not think the whole case through. Instead the prosecution danced to the tune of the defense. The prosecution charged Zimmerman with an offense that gave Zimmerman an out. He had an opportunity, not only to use Stand Your Ground as a defense, but also an opportunity that allowed him to forego taking the stand all the while smearing the victim in the process.
If this were a false imprisonment, kidnapping, or aggravated child abuse case, Zimmerman would at least have to take the stand if he had any chance of beating the charges. Also evidentiary speaking, Zimmerman’s abusive and violent history would have been allowed into the case. It is even possible that Zimmerman’s alleged molestation of his cousin would have been allowed into the case. Furthermore, Trayvon’s cell phone photos, his school records, or his alleged drug use would have been completely irrelevant. Just think, name one kidnapping case that has occurred where the victim’s past as far as school records or alleged drug use was an issue. For example think about the Ohio case of those three girls. Are we asking about their school records, drug use, or whether they asked for it in any way? No! Why is it different for Trayvon? You don’t need me to answer that question. Just ask Charles Ramsey why he hasn’t received a hero’s reward, but Zimmerman has.
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