In George Zimmerman case, prosecutors may be hamstrung by Florida laws

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law enables individuals who feel threatened in a public place to “meet force with force,” rather than back away. The law prevented police from arresting Zimmerman in February, officials said at the time, and may play a role in derailing any conviction, according to several Florida defense lawyers.

Bruce Fleischer, a veteran criminal defense attorney in Miami, said what Zimmerman told the 911 dispatcher and what he said in his first statement to police will be key to his case. Any evidence showing he believed “his life was in danger” will be central to a self-defense claim.

“The argument is going to be, ‘What did he believe and what did he perceive?”’ said Fleischer, who has defended dozens of people accused of murder and manslaughter and has argued self-defense in the past. That assertion by Zimmerman, he said, is the biggest obstacle faced by the prosecution.

“It’s a recognized defense under the law, and Stand Your Ground has enhanced it,” he said.

Plead Not Guilty

The decision to charge Zimmerman by Florida State Attorney Angela Corey was announced yesterday in Jacksonville. Lawyers for Zimmerman, who remains in custody in Seminole County, said yesterday he will plead not guilty. He faces as long as life in prison if convicted. An initial appearance before a judge, where he may seek bail, is scheduled for this afternoon in Sanford.

Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother Hispanic, told police Martin attacked him on a sidewalk near his home, and that he shot Martin after first being punched in the nose and having his head slammed into the ground, officials said.

Zimmerman, who said he was driving to a grocery store when he saw Martin walking through the gated community, told authorities he followed the teenager on foot and called the police to report a suspicious person. A dispatcher told Zimmerman to stop following Martin, and to wait for police.

Brian Tannebaum, a veteran defense attorney in Miami, said he was surprised by the second-degree murder charge, which he said prosecutors may have a harder time proving than if they had charged Zimmerman with manslaughter.

‘Tough Time’

“I think the jury is going to have a tough time with the idea that George Zimmerman murdered this kid. The word murder takes away any possibility that it was an accident,” he said.

Zimmerman is charged with second degree murder for killing Martin in “an act imminently dangerous to another, and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life,” according to the charging document. The requirement of “depraved mind” is what, to a large extent, separates the charge from manslaughter, which for a teenager like Martin carried a maximum 30-year term, Tannebaum said.