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Brace for worst in Trayvon Martin case PDF Print E-mail
Written by DONALD JONES   
Saturday, 02 June 2012
donald_jones_web.jpgSanford police arrested George Zimmerman after he shot and killed Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26. Then they gave him back his gun.

No drug tests were done to see if Zimmerman was under the influence of drugs at the time.   Perhaps the most critical evidence that was lost was the clothes Zimmerman wore when he shot Trayvon. The police allowed him to wear the clothes home.  The critical Crime Scene Investigation forensics that should have been done immediately   were not done.  No real investigation would begin until more than 30 days later.

The state, in prosecuting Zimmerman, is like a basketball team 30 points behind before the game begins.

Racial profiling

But the cursory Andy of Mayberry-level investigation that took place was only the first shoe to fall. Trayvon was an innocent child who died in the aftermath of a tragic incident of racial profiling.  

Ironically, in death he, not Zimmerman, is being portrayed as a thug.   

We learn that Trayvon was suspended from school for marijuana and had traces of  the drug  in his system.  But what does this have to do with the issue of self-defense?

This latest effort at character assassination draws on stereotypes popularized by television shows such as Cops and HBO’s The Wire showing  black males as drug users and thugs.  The story slowly taking shape here is that Trayvon is the “young tough,” the criminal, and Zimmerman a folk hero who stood up for law and order.  Almost on cue, a company produced targets for gun-users which use a silhouette of a Trayvon-like figure as a target.

The fact that these hateful images have sold out on the Internet — they could not make them fast enough — shows that many Floridians are buying or have already bought into these stereotypes.  No doubt some of these folks will find their way into the jury pool.


But by far the biggest obstacle to justice is Florida’s infamous “stand your ground” law. Self-defense should never be a cover for vigilante violence.  In Florida, sometimes it is.

Florida’s “stand your ground” law might as well be called Florida’s “make my day” statute.  Greyston Garcia chases down Pedro Roteta, who has stolen a radio out of his car.  He stabs the thief to death. He claims the thief might have struck him with a bag of stolen car radios. A prostitute picks up her client’s .357 magnum and shoots him to death. 

There was a traditional rule in criminal law that you could not create the conditions of your own defense.  In both of these cases, the killers did exactly that. They both chose to put themselves in potentially life-threatening situations and then claimed self-defense. And they were both acquitted.

First Blow

Trayvon’s side of  the  story is that Zimmerman followed the teenager, got out of the car,  after being  told not to by a  police dispatcher, and walked up

to him. According to Trayon’s girlfriend, Zimmerman pushed him.  Zimmerman struck the first blow, from that account.  It is not clear how much of her story is admissible and his side of the story may never be fully told in a court of law if the self-defense claim is upheld. 

But, even if it is, even if the state can prove Zimmerman struck the first blow, will that be enough? Based on the way Florida courts have been applying that law, the answer is no.  Under the “stand your ground” law, the person who strikes the first blow does not automatically forfeit the right to claim self-defense.

Deadly Force

The person must show that although he or she was provoked or even if he or she threw the first blow, he or she retreated and backed away as far as possible and then the “other guy” attacked with potentially deadly force.  That is Zimmerman’s story.  It does appear to be convenient and self-serving. 

He conveniently portrays himself as “walking back to his car and struck from behind.”  Zimmerman’s story could be a cover for murder.

But, in the words of Denzel Washington’s character in Training Day,  “It is not what it is, it is what you can prove.”

Donald Jones is professor of Law at the University of Miami.  He may be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Donald Jones

Comments (13)Add Comment
 1 2 > 
written by Juan, May 31, 2012
Using a basketball metaphor as you did ... Your team obviously is the Washington Generals.
written by Citizen West, May 31, 2012
Hey! Andy of Mayberry was a very thorough and unbiased investigator. You must be thinking of Barney (Fife) of Mayberry.
written by Jeff, May 31, 2012
You sir are an idiot
Fact checkers???
written by Doug, May 31, 2012
Does this paper have fact checkers? Do things get verified before they are written?

Fact: The police DID keep his gun. The article claims they didn't.

Fact: The police DID keep his clothes. The article claims they didn't.

The author's entire premise is based on these two lies, rendering whatever conclusions he arrives at flawed and moot.

written by Adjoran, May 31, 2012
Why include outright lies in a commentary? The gun was and is being held and tested, as were his clothes - Zimmerman's wife brought a change of clothes to the station, which he wore home.

If the University of Miama Law school hires such lying buffoons as professors, why would any honest student enroll there?
written by faketony, May 31, 2012
Prof. Jones, you are welcome to come to justoneminute.typepad.com/main/2012/05/zimmerman-waiting-for-more-discovery.html#comments
and defend your position.
That Underage Child was a Thug
written by Rob Crawford, May 31, 2012
The most important aspect is that Zimmerman be punished to some extent because, for whatever reason, he took the life of an underage child.

That "underage child" attacked him, and put Zimmerman in a position where he believed it was shoot or risk death.

You really believe that people should be punished for defending themselves, just because their attacker was a few months short of their 18th birthday?
Law Professor?
written by land of confusion, May 31, 2012
Professor, your conclusion that Trayvon Martin was an "innocent child" is not credible. His school suspensions, tweets, and social media posts speak for themselves. The 'hateful images' of Trayvon Martin which have done the most to dispel the innocent child myth were posted by Trayvon Martin himself.

Secondly, your reliance on the narrative of the unnamed 'girlfriend' who was allegedly on the phone with Martin during the incident is a repetition of a third-hand story from 'family lawyer' Benjamin Crump which will not be used at trial because it's not true. The reason that Crump hasn't released the phone records or otherwise cooperated with the investigation is because the phone records would show that Trayvon wasn't on the phone at all at the time of the incident. If the records were consistent with the story, he would have released them by now, don't you think?

Also, ask yourself this: does it even make sense that the 5'8" Zimmerman would have pushed or otherwise provoked the 6'2" Martin?
Keep in mind...
written by Sierra, May 31, 2012
regardless of how the shooting occurred. The most important aspect is that Zimmerman be punished to some extent because, for whatever reason, he took the life of an underage child. That's the most important factor here is that a child died. It doesn't really matter whether he shot him in cold blood or in self defense, he still took the life of a child and deserves some sort of punishment. You can't let someone walk for this. There's a very fine line between self defense and homicide which is another problem and because there were no real witnesses present, it's really hard to determine what the main factor was but it doesn't matter! People focus on the wrong aspects of the entire case here. I don't think Zimmerman necessarily needs a murder charge on his record but he did kill someone, whatever the reason is - it doesn't matter because in the end he did MURDER someone. Murder is no defined by having a motive, it's nothing more than the act of killing another. He definitely deserves some sort of negligent homicide charge though which is the basic charge for shooting someone more or less.

Just keep in mind. A child died. That needs to see some punishment at least.
"Help" debate
written by El Gordo Loco, May 31, 2012
Do we really need witnessed to figure out if the person screaming for "help" was the person with the broken nose, black eyes and bloodied skull OR the guy with cut up knuckles? And second, does a neighborhood watch, created out of excessive recent crime, deserve to be beaten for checking into an unrecognizable person in a gated community where a key is needed to gain access? Ask yourself why the person that FIRST called for police assistance gets no credibility in his story that he was in fact returning to his vehicle
 1 2 > 

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