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This is just fascinating. Apparently George Zimmerman may not have done anything illegal at all, because it's perfectly legal to murder people in Florida if you claim self-defense.

Or a little more specifically, if you claim self-defense in Florida (at least in their fifth district; I'm not sure how much more broadly this ruling has been applied) the burden of proof is on the state to show that it was not justified. Claims of self-defense are presumptively true.

This is just a brilliant move on Florida's part. Consider all of the possibilities for murder tourism; apparently, all you have to do is say "Oh my God! He's coming right for us!" before you fire.
Discussing the Trayvon Martin case earlier today, I stumbled on a horrifying fact about Florida law: when self-defense is alleged, the state bears the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the homicide was unjustified. In other words, in Florida, homicide is legal as a general matter, except in cases where the victim can be proven not to have deserved it.

By comparison, in every other state I'm aware of, a person who commits a homicide and claims that it was justified bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the killing was justified.
61 So.3d 424 (2011). Michael V. MONTIJO, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee. No. 5D09-3434. District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fifth District. April 15, 2011. Rehearing Denied May 26, 2011. 42...
Brion “Fat Cat” Swanson's profile photoJerry Sutton's profile photoChris Koeberle's profile photoSimon Bridge's profile photo
Now I know where to invite a certain annoyance in my life... >:)
Is that why Dexter is based in Florida?
Having lived there in past years I like +Patrick Jarrett left after seeing it was not the paradise some assume. Not the only goofy law I came across. Remember the past Governor was named BUSH! Enough said?
Florida is not the only state. Search for states with a "Stand your ground" self defense law -- I think there are something like 17 states with similar laws.
Does chasing after someone count as "standing your ground" then?
+Brion Swanson +Simon Bridge This goes well beyond "stand your ground." SyG says that if another person is attacking you, you are justified in killing them. This says that if you claim that the person was attacking you, the state has to prove that they weren't. Your say-so is good enough.
+Yonatan Zunger : that's what I was thinking ... the "stand your ground" laws are sensibly restrained by comparison. Next you'll be returning to gun duels in the street (he drew first, therefore it was self defense...)
+Simon Bridge Or to the more informal legal systems we had in the West, which included defenses like "he needed killin'."
I think the best thing from such a popular case is that they are going to rethink this law. It doesn't make any sense.
Hmm. To my mind, the state should be able to vacate the "self defense" part by showing that Zimmerman initiated the encounter against the explicit say so of the dispatcher. Not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but that's my feeling.

FWIW, I think SyG probably comes from popular reaction against the injustice of the "duty to flee" that's encoded in other states' laws around self defense. I find that alternative at least as repugnant as the outcome of this case. Here in CA, I'm left with the distinct impression that I can be called upon to defend myself or my family, and end up punished by the state because an ill-informed jury of non-peers who weren't there didn't believe it was reasonable for me to claim I feared for my life. I'm not claiming that SyG as currently formulated in FL is a well considered alternative, but I have zero faith in our legal system to defend those who do act in genuine self defense.
+Justin Meyer That would be my thought, too. I'm presuming that's one of the major tacks the prosecution will take.
The prosecutor said as much during the press conference about the filing. If Zimmerman sought out the confrontation he can't use the Stand Your Ground Law as a defense. Its up to the prosecution to prove that he sought out the confrontation.
You'd hope to at least have a ruling limiting the applicability of the precedent if the defense chooses to use it.

The cited case (Montijo v state) itself uses two cases for it's basis ... murray v state and mosansky v state to argue that the defense does not need to prove self defense beyond a reasonable doubt ... but they do have to show that there were sufficient grounds for justifiable use of deadly force.

The idea is that the state has to prove you committed a crime - this reasonably means the state must prove you were not justified in using lethal force. Surely this is the case everywhere?

Further - does the precedent even apply? Consider, the defendant in montijo was pursued and attacked. In this case, wasn't the defendant the pursuer?

Doesn't the precedent cut both ways?
State will no doubt argue that the victim was reasonably in fear of his life, felt justified to respond with deadly force, leading to the known facts, but was unsuccessful.
+Jerry Sutton Is that hard considering that he followed the person, admitted to doing as much on the 911 call, even though 911 said not to?
Don't judge all of us Floridians because of the stupid laws the corporate party of America pushes on us!
+Navarr Barnier seems obvious to me but a lot of cases seem obvious before they get in front of a jury.
Defense may do better to try painting the incident as a tragic misunderstanding resulting from unwise decisions ... that would be what: manslaughter? Some kind of negligence or reckless disregard?
I believe Zimmerman has claimed that he followed Martin, but that he was walking back towards his car when Martin approached him, they "exchanged words", and then Martin hit him. See the paragraphs below the heading "One-minute gap" here:

That's is allegedly Zimmerman's account of the events that led to the shooting.

Let's assume for a moment that what is described there is true. Under that scenario, did Zimmerman "seek a confrontation"? If he was following somebody whom he considered suspicious, but didn't approach the person and didn't confront that person, is that seeking a confrontation?

Perhaps yes, perhaps no. A reasonable person might wonder why somebody was following them. Zimmerman certainly could have not followed Martin, and simply made the report to the police by phone.

If we further suppose it's true that Zimmerman was actually walking back to his car when Martin approached, then it seems pretty hard to argue that he "sought a confrontation" at that point. In the absence of a third-party witness, how can we ever know whether he was walking back to his car or not?

I think it's really hard to have any kind of informed opinion about this case at this point, because so much of the information that has come out is biased, incomplete, or fabricated. Even something that appears to be reasonably objective may not hold up to scrutiny. For example, the newspaper piece I linked above says, "On Feb. 26, when Zimmerman first spotted Trayvon, he called police and reported a suspicious person, describing Trayvon as black, acting strangely and perhaps on drugs."

But, the 911 tapes actually show that the dispatcher asked Zimmerman a direct question about the race of the "suspicious person", and Zimmerman answered it. So, depending upon how you read that sentence, you may infer that Zimmerman had racial motivations, because he "described Trayvon as black", but does that inference change when you realize that he was answering a direct question?

I think there are clear problems with the presumption that the use of force in self-defense was justified, but there are similar problems with the opposite presumption. What if, in a completely hypothetical scenario, Zimmerman was walking down the street, was confronted and assaulted by Martin, and Zimmerman shot Martin under circumstances that any of us would consider absolutely justified? If there were no witnesses to the confrontation other than the two parties involved, and one is dead, then would you argue that Zimmerman should be presumed to have acted criminally? How could he ever show that he didn't?

Very difficult stuff, and not nearly as clear cut IMO as the news media seem to want it to be, on either side.
That is the whole point of having a trial. The media can say anything they want, but in a court his lawyers will have the right to cross examine all witness testimony and to introduce any evidence they have to convince the jury that things happened the way Zimmerman claims.
So ... "beyond a reasonable doubt" is always the bar for a criminal conviction of this type, right? It sounds like the original poster is asking for deprivation of liberty without due course of law. The particular way this was stated makes it sound terrifying, but I don't really see why the bar should be different for self defense versus other offenses.

There's an argument to be made regarding whether deadly force is ever justifiable (and I happen to believe it is, in response to deadly force, if that's relevant to the reader), but that's not the question being asked.
+Ethan Blanton Beyond a reasonable doubt is absolutely the bar. What's unusual in this case is that self-defense is normally an affirmative defense; if you want to admit that you killed someone but claim self-defense, you have to show that you were indeed defending yourself. Under Florida law, however, the prosecution has to prove that the other person wasn't attacking. Compare that to a normal murder case, where the prosecution needs to prove things like "the defendant shot the victim;" in this case, the defendant can say "yup, I shot him!" and unless the prosecution can prove a negative, the defendant gets off scott-free.
I haven't recently read Florida's deadly force laws, so I may be mistaken, but it's generally my impression (having read quite a few states' deadly force laws as a lay reader, not a lawyer) that that's not how it works. You have to show that you believed you needed to defend yourself, in many cases, and it's up to the state to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a "reasonable person" would not have come to the same conclusion. States differ widely, of course, and there are often complications such as duty to retreat, location, time of day, etc. mixed in there. Florida's stand your ground law (which I don't think is otherwise particularly relevant to any of this, and probably not to this specific discussion) would seem to simplify most of that, though.

I just have to think that, if I ever had to defend my life or the life of someone I love, I would want the State's burden of proof that my defense was wrong to be beyond a reasonable doubt.
Disclaimers: I only know Texas, and this is not legal advice. In Texas, self-defense is not an affirmative defense, it is a "defense to prosecution," which is handled differently - the defendant must provide some evidence, but then the jury considers whether that evidence raises reasonable doubt. Moreover, "reasonable doubt" is not the standard for affirmative defenses in Texas - it's preponderance of the evidence.
Two things:
1. Stand Your Ground is really just a clarification enacted a few years ago to the existing Florida self-defense law that previously stated a "duty to retreat" unless you could not retreat. SyG simply removed that duty but the law always provided individuals with the ability to use any force, even lethal force, to defend themselves. I'm not sure if SyG also extended this protection to everywhere (public areas, other people's property) instead of just your own property as it is in many states.

2. This case may never make it to trial. Before it goes to trial the defense and prosecution will have a hearing before the judge and present the facts of the case and make brief arguments. The judge will then decide whether or not he/she believes Zimmerman's claim of self-defense was justified in that: a) he was not the first aggressor and b) he genuinely believed he was in danger of serious bodily injury or death. If the judge believes him the self-defense stands and the case is dismissed without trial. If the judge disagrees or decides to let the jury decide it will go to trial.

This information came from listening to a few Florida lawyers, former Florida prosecutors who worked SyG cases, and a former Florida Judge on NPR. It was an interesting discussion and a couple of the panelists disagreed which way the judge would go (one believing Zimmerman very likely has not violated Florida law, and one believing the judge will not want to set a precedent in such a high-profile case and punt to the jury).
+Brion Swanson If true, #2 seems absolutely insane to me. The idea that a judge would be making a fact judgment as to Zimmerman's state of mind in a jury trial... Argh, head exploding.

Also, minor nitpick - the castle doctrine is distinct from the removal of a duty to retreat. I'm not sure there's ever been a duty to retreat in one's own home in any state. If it doesn't apply outside the home, it's not "stand your ground" or anything like it.
#2 sounds very similar to a Preliminary Hearing Procedure where the Judge must agree that the Prosecution has enough evidence to proceed with a criminal prosecution. In the case of a self defense plea he would in fact have to judge the likely truthfulness of the defendant's plea but I would assume he would do so in a very cautious measure. No idea how this case will end up it is being adjudicated in very charged circumstances.
I agree that the first post stated the case in overly scary terms.

All Motijo v State (the cited precedent) asserts is that the affirmative defens"self defense" does not have to be demonstrated "beyond a reasonable doubt" for the defense to apply.

This would mean that the jury would end up finding the defendant guilty if there was any reasonable doubt that it was self defense. Thus, claiming self defense in a borderline case would help the prosecution.

Instead the jury should have been instructed to consider a preponderance of evidence as sufficient to cast doubt on the murder charge.

With this in mind, the first post becomes more like: "Oh noes! You can go out and kill anyone you like and you'll get away with it if the prosecution cannot prove it was murder, beyond a reasonable doubt!"

The proper reaction is: "Well - yeah..."
From reading Montijo, it sounds like Florida actually ends up much like Texas - in order for the jury to consider self-defense, the defendant must present at least a scintilla of evidence, and then the jury considers whether that evidence raises reasonable doubt.
+Chris Koeberle : that's how I'm reading it.
The whole argument [in the citation] revolves around how the Judge instructs the jury - self defense needs strong evidence in support, just not "beyond a reasonable doubt".

That sounds totally sensible to me.
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