Thursday, March 22, 2012

Zimmerman - Martin; Fisking a Hit Piece

Shoot first, plead self-defense later
(well, doing it the other way around would be kind of silly...)


“Hang’m first. Hold a trial after we get done prejudicing the potential jury pool.”

Clearly I’m behind with my homework. I need to find out more about these “Stand Your Ground” laws, of which there are apparently 21 around the US.

In general, “Stand Your Ground” statutes embed in statutory law what has long been supported by case law in the western states – that, should you be attacked or placed in reasonable fear of your life or great bodily harm (some also add “or the life or great bodily harm of another”)

“Under “stand-your-ground” you are presumed innocent if you claim to have been in fear of grave bodily harm or death, and acted in self-defense against an attack that occurs anywhere you have a right to be. It would be up to the state to prove that you acted recklessly and that your fears were unsubstantiated.”

The specific Florida statute can be found here.

It gives the benefit of the doubt to a person who claims self-defense, regardless of whether the killing takes place on a street, in a car or in a bar — not just in one’s home, the standard cited in more restrictive laws. In Florida, if people feel they are in imminent danger from being killed or badly injured, they do not have to retreat, even if it would seem reasonable to do so. They have the right to “stand their ground” and protect themselves.

So, you are suggesting that “innocent until proven guilty” only applies inside the home? Or that victims must flee younger and spryer (or bigger and meaner, or both) assailants or face charges? “Stand your ground” is not remotely a get out of jail free card for vigilantes. Such statutes make it very clear that the defense goes right out the window if you are the initiator of a confrontation.

Say what? In Florida, even in a situation where retreat is possible and safe, they can opt to stand still and kill someone?

Yes. If you take up a fun hobby of mugging, robbery, rape and sundry assaultive behaviors – in Florida and several other states you would save yourself time and energy by just taking up Russian Roulette. If your proposed mugging victim feels the knife you are waving at him/her translates to a serious threat of death or bodily injury…they can shoot you, decapitate you, drop a grand piano on you, or shot put you into the next county. In short, initiating violent crime becomes a throw of the dice on whether you, the criminal, will get to keep breathing.

The story that seems to be emerging is that knife-edge vigilante George Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin walking along a street in a “gated community” and decided to follow him and call the police to report the fact that Martin was walking along a street; the police told Zimmerman to stop following Martin; Zimmerman went on following Martin anyway, and caught up with him and shot him. Is that about right?

At this point, we don’t know about how much of a knife edge that Zimmerman was or was not on. We know that, most likely (given that humans are fallible and busy LEO’s are on occasion moreso), Zimmerman made 46 911 calls in the months prior. A gated community typically implies that if one is reasonably attentive it becomes easier to determine who is a neighbor and who is a stranger, but is otherwise largely irrelevant to the case at hand. Following someone and calling it in to 911 is all well and good if you believe suspicious activity is happening – it is questionable, barring observation of a crime in progress, whether it is wise to engage the individual of whom you are uncertain in conversation. If the local police are warning you off, such a warning tilts the decision even more towards disengagement or (at a minimum) observation from a distance. If observed is an aggressor, things may go south rather rapidly if contact is made. In the Martin-Zimmerman interaction we know that conversation took place, we know that Zimmerman (a Latino, since that seems so important to some folks) was bleeding from the nose and the back of the head when officers arrived, and we think we know that a single shot was fired from Zimmerman’s gun, killing Martin (it is a long shot, but barring minor miracles, unlike on TV it is unlikely that ballistic evidence is fully analyzed quite yet…or that it *can* be; CSI Miami gets a lot more breaks than real cops, and bullets bend/smoosh/compress in ways that can compromise a match-up with a given firearm).

But they have this deranged law, so Zimmerman can just say it was self-defense, and the police can’t arrest him and prosecutors can’t prosecute him.

Actually, the law doesn’t say that. The law does mean that police actually must prove that Zimmerman did not act in self-defense once such a defense is claimed. They actually have to prove a case, and honor that entire silly notion of “innocent until proven guilty”. Granted, “innocent until proven guilty” may be a new concept for many – lynching in the press and on the ‘net is swifter, and in Zimmerman’s case we apparently have folks eager to go do the job out in the real world.

This is crazy. It’s stark raving nuts.

Well, if you were talking about the real world rather than the agenda-driven fantasies of professional agitators…perhaps. I’m pretty ok with an actual investigation (there are two, both the local Sheriff’s office and the U.S. Justice Department), bringing charges if appropriate, and then a jury trial. Certainly seems a more likely path to justice than “we all know”, the “person shot was young and black so of course a victim and harmless” (black has nothing to do with harmless or not harmless, and young doesn’t have an awful lot more relevance to matters).

The lawyer for Trayvon’s parents, Benjamin Crump, said at a news conference on Tuesday that Trayvon was speaking to his girlfriend on his cellphone minutes before he was shot, telling her that a man was following him as he walked home.

Trayvon told his girlfriend he was being confronted, Mr. Crump said. She told him to run, and he said he would “walk fast.” Trayvon was headed to the home of his father’s girlfriend after a visit to a convenience store, carrying Skittles and a can of iced tea.

Trayvon asked, “Why are you following me?” Mr. Crump said. The girl then heard a faraway voice ask, “What are you doing around here?” Mr. Crump added. Then Trayvon’s voice falls away.

“She completely blows Zimmerman’s self-defense claim out of the water,” Mr. Crump said.

For good or ill, a single unrecorded and unsubstantiated call doesn’t blow or not blow anything out of the water. It is indicative. It is, perhaps, a witness statement. But people lie. People forget. People get excited and unconsciously exaggerate. It is better than nothing, but not an awful lot. A single witness statement isn’t much to base any case on, let alone one that may result in imprisonment or worse should charges be brought and a party convicted.

Mr. Zimmerman had reported a “suspicious” person to 911 shortly before the encounter, saying a black male was checking out the houses and staring at him. Mr. Zimmerman, a criminal justice major, often patrolled the neighborhood. He had placed 46 calls to 911 in 14 months, for reports including open windows and suspicious persons.

In the 911 call, Mr. Zimmerman, using an expletive and speaking of Trayvon, said they “always get away.” The 911 dispatcher told him not to get out of the car and said the police were on their way. Mr. Zimmerman was already outside. A dispute began. Mr. Zimmerman told the police that Trayvon attacked him and that he fired in self-defense.

I do not defend Zimmerman so much as I defend logic, due process, and trial by law. I am not enamored of returning back to the bad old days of lynching – of anyone.

A “suspicious” person – because he was walking down the street. Aren’t there laws against calling the police for frivolous or invented reasons? That’s always been my impression. It’s also always been my impression that we’re allowed to walk down the street. Mind you, I do sometimes wonder, when I see those Neighborhood Watch signs in people’s windows – but I nevertheless retained the belief that as a matter of law we were all allowed to walk down the street.

Yes. In an area where access is controlled (see: “gated community”), seeing a stranger wandering about is suspicious. It may, or may not, merit calling the police depending on other factors. But “unusual” is worth reporting, even if only so that if someone’s house is broken into or some other bad acts occur, the odds of tracking down the perpetrator are somewhat enhanced. A cell phone camera is also a wonderful tool in such circumstances.

The state attorney in Tallahassee, Willie Meggs, who fought the law when it was proposed, said: “The consequences of the law have been devastating around the state. It’s almost insane what we are having to deal with.”

It is increasingly used by gang members fighting gang members, drug dealers battling drug dealers and people involved in road rage encounters. Confrontations at a bar are also common: someone looks at someone the wrong way or bothers someone’s girlfriend.

Citations, please? Is this simply the ranting of an over-dramatic opponent? (When somebody opposed something in the first place, it kind of reduces their credibility as an impartial analyst to be asked about “what’s wrong with this law” later…)

Under the old law, a person being threatened with a gun or a knife had a duty to try to get away from the situation, if possible. Now that person has a right to grab a gun (or knife, or ice pick, as happened in one case) and use it, without an attempt to retreat.

Even if that were true…you would suggest that if threatened with a gun you be required to out-run a bullet before you are allowed to defend yourself? That an asthmatic need go for a lung-wrenching sprint before self-defense is an option? Oddly enough, “Stand your ground” typically works out well – and if I were to speculate, will not stand up as a defense for Zimmerman. Simply because one presents a defense does not mean that it works. And simply because someone you don’t like utilizes a defense, doesn’t mean the defense itself is bad or the law dysfunctional.

We are a crazy people. We must be, to allow this kind of thing.

Not really, no. Because we don’t allow the kind of thing you are alleging.

Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, says that his organization tracks laws in 21 states that extend the self-defense doctrine beyond the home. The usual label for such laws — “stand your ground” — is politically charged, he said, suggesting that a more apt label would be “Shoot first, ask questions later.”

And, if you are seeking balanced in your post (that funny fairness thing), I’m noting an absolute absence of comment in your post by any person not a member of a firearms prohibition advocacy group or not speaking from a pro-regulatory stance.

Laws like the one in Florida allow situations like the Trayvon Martin killing, he said. “We’re heartbroken, but we’re not surprised.”

Gross is, shall we say, less than an impartial commenter or analyst. Perhaps you can find either an impartial analyst or a quote from a similarly prominent figure that favors self-defense? It is your blog, just as my blog is my blog…but when you go out of your way to slant a post to drive a pre-determined conclusion – unlike in our respective living rooms, the odds are good that folk will either criticize or make fun of us.

I feel dirty.

You should. You are contributing to “trial by public circus”, undermining what (if any) justice may be found for Martin or Zimmerman, and either simply engaging in fraud or failing to do even the most minimalistic of research.

To be utterly clear. I'm not defending Zimmerman. I strongly suspect (as a non-attorney) that a case can be made that Martin's death was in fact wrongful, and that legal action will be taken successfully - certainly at the civil level, and probably at the criminal (though "beyond a reasonable doubt" is a standard that might be a difficult one to meet with the evidence publicly available.

1 comment:

Old NFO said...

Honestly, I don't know if we'll EVER know the truth on this one... But it IS being blown up all to hell and gone...