Simply stated Self-Defense means that what you did would have been a crime except for the fact that you had to do it. In Florida, George Zimmerman is on trial for murder for killing an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman is asserting that he acted in self-defense and was justified in shooting the unarmed teen. The State will counter with the argument that self-defense does not apply to the facts of this case. The best place to start is with the definitions that will be given to the jury.
The jury instruction will say:
A defendant is justified in using or threatening physical force in self-defense if the following two conditions existed:
1. A reasonable person in the situation would have believed that physical force was immediately necessary to protect against another's use or apparent attempted or threatened use of unlawful physical force; and
2. The defendant used or threatened no more physical force than would have appeared necessary to a reasonable person in the situation.
A defendant may use deadly physical force in self-defense only to protect against another's use or apparent attempted or threatened use of deadly physical force.
Self-defense does not apply if the defendant provoked the other's use of unlawful physical force, unless:
a. The defendant withdrew from the encounter or clearly communicated to the other person the defendant's intent to withdraw, reasonably believing that the defendant could not withdraw from the encounter; and
b. The other person nevertheless continued or attempted to use unlawful physical force against the defendant.
The State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act with such justification. If the State fails to carry this burden, then you must find the defendant not guilty of the charge.
In the Zimmerman case the State will argue that Mr. Zimmerman provoked the whole situation and he went way beyond what was necessary to get out of the situation. His state of mind is in the call he made to the police. He stated, "f*&$%ng punks, they always get away with it." He then disregarded the police instruction not to follow Trayvon. The State will contend this was provocation.
Is the act of following someone provocation? The State has a difficult burden on that issue in my opinion. Yes, following someone is sure to bring about some reaction but not necessarily a violent one. The fact that he was told not to follow Trayvon bolsters the State's case a lot. Following someone in the dark, in the rain, and for a prolonged amount of time is sure to draw some response.
A big problem for the State is that there is only one witness: George Zimmerman. He says that Trayvon approached him as he was walking back to his car and asked if he had a problem. Zimmerman told the police he said "no" and Trayvon replied , "well you've got one now" and punched him in the face. The defense will argue that Zimmerman did nothing to provoke the punch. The State will say, correctly, that if Zimmerman had obeyed the police and not followed Trayvon around the neighborhood they never would have met.
Is following a person provoking them? The jury will decide.
It is pretty clear that George Zimmerman was in a fight and that he was on the losing end of that fight. Zimmerman claims that while Trayvon was hitting his head into the sidewalk he saw Zimmerman's gun, he then told Zimmerman he was going to kill him and tried to grab it. Zimmerman says he got to the gun first and shot once.
I believe Zimmerman's story has some major problems. For example, if he was really being beaten while Trayvon was on top of him how was he able to grab the gun before Trayvon got it? How did he end up straddling Trayvon if he shot him while he was on the ground?
It will be interesting to see Zimmerman testify. If he is made to look like a liar he may very well lose. If he can hold his own and stick to his story he is in a position to be acquitted.
This is far from a clear Self-Defense case. Zimmerman acted in a way that made a confrontation likely. If the State is allowed to get into all of his long and strange history of calling the police on young, african-americans his credibility will take a major hit. He got what he was asking for and couldn't handle it with tragic consequences.
In my opinion Zimmerman's apparently racist disposition caused this whole thing. He hunted a kid who was not doing anything wrong. He creepily followed him in his car and then got out to follow him some more. Any kid, shoot any person, would have been highly concerned by Zimmerman's actions. Zimmerman caused the fight, lost and then killed the kid.
However, as a defense attorney I can see a lot of good arguments on Zimmerman's behalf. The facts may not be so great but the law and the burden of proof give Zimmerman a good case.