Saturday evening a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder. It is easier to understand how this ruling came to be if we understand a couple of legal terms.
Since I am not an attorney, I will rely on the website FindLaw and the Florida legal code which provides an explanation of each of these legal terms and comments from legal commentators.
In order for a jury in Florida to convict someone of second-degree murder, the jury must determine that the crime fits the definition of second degree murder, and was not an act of self defense. Also if the jurors have doubts that the defendent is guilty, they should vote against conviction.
What is Second Degree Murder?
According to Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz, "You know, this is a case that should never have been brought in the first place, certainly not as a second degree murder prosecution."
FindLaw defines second degree murder as:
"1) an intentional killing that is not premeditated or planned, nor committed in a reasonable 'heat of passion'; or 2) a killing caused by dangerous conduct and the offender's obvious lack of concern for human life."
What is Self Defense?
Florida's legal code defines what is permissible as an act of self defense:
"A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another ..."
One of the provision has been referred to as a "stand your ground law." The Florida law states:
"A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."
Wall Street Journal legal reporter Jacob Gershman describes Florida's self defense statute: "There’s no slicing and dicing of self-defense. The penal code doesn’t recognize 'imperfect self defense.' The law forces juries to either believe that someone had a right to act in self-defense or is a murderer.
The Reasonal Doubt Standard
On Sunday Dershowitz provided commentary on CNN and said that Zimmerman's prosecutor Angela Corey "charged second-degree murder in a case where there was reasonable doubt written all over it."
FindLaw defines "beyond a reasonable doubt" as "The standard in a criminal case that must be met by the prosecution in order to convict the defendant. It means the evidence is fully satisfied, all the facts are proven and guilt is established."
Zimmerman admitted to killing Trayvon Martin but claimed it was an act of self defense. Although Zimmerman exited his car against the advice of the police radio dispatcher, this didn't establish that the killing was premeditated.
Evidence supporting Zimmerman's claim of self defense included photos of his face and the back of his head which showed that he was attacked.
Jurors also heard a recording of someone screaming for help. Zimmerman's mom and Martin's mom each claimed the screams came from her son. Audio experts also gave conflicting testimony regarding the voices heard in the recording. CNN reported, "Was it George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin who screamed for help the night the 17-year-old Martin was shot dead? That could depend on which mother the jury believes."
The conflicting audio reports may have contributed to doubts on the behalf of the jurors. WKMG reported that Zimmerman's attorney "pointed out that the FBI listened to the tape and couldn't determine whose voice was saying what and that other experts for the state have had inconclusive results."
Until the jurors speak publicly, we will not know their reasoning for aquittal.