As I’m sure you know, George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder yesterday, a charge that surprised many legal experts who expected something more like manslaughter.
“It seems like an enormous swing to be able go from not feeling you have enough evidence to arrest him, to charging him with essentially as high as you can charge him in second-degree murder,” Richard Hornsby, a criminal defense attorney in Orlando, Fla., told msnbc.com. “Second-degree murder requires him to have engaged in an intentional act with ill will, hatred or spite. It means he basically went and was looking to shoot Trayvon Martin.”
The jury in the case could always opt for a lesser charge. But this is a stiffer indictment than some expectations. Alternatively, Angela Corey could be just setting a high bid, only to come out with a plea bargain in the end.
Zimmerman showed up in court today, and Zimmerman pleaded not guilty. His lawyer asked that bail be posted for his client. The defense has signaled they will attempt to use Florida’s Stand Your Ground law to obtain immunity from the charges by proving he acted in self-defense. This is at the heart of the case, because nobody, save perhaps the prosecutor, has a firm grasp of the events of the night of February 26.
The prosecutors must prove Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin was rooted in hatred or ill will and counter his claims that he shot Martin to protect himself while patrolling his gated community in the Orlando suburb of Sanford. Zimmerman’s lawyers would only have to prove by a preponderance of evidence – a relatively low legal standard – that he acted in self-defense at a pretrial hearing to prevent the case from going to trial.
There’s a “high likelihood it could be dismissed by the judge even before the jury gets to hear the case,” Florida defense attorney Richard Hornsby said.
Meanwhile, Zimmerman’s brother told CNN that “Our brother could have been dead, our brother had to save his life by taking a life.” Fortunately for Zimmerman, he doesn’t have to prove that in court. But the case will turn on whether the judge believes that Zimmerman perceived danger to himself, thus justifying the deadly force under Florida law. That evidentiary hearing would take place before the case proceeds. And as expressed above, the legal standard for Zimmerman to reach is relatively low, or at least lower than “reasonable doubt.”
The Stand Your Ground law, incidentally, is part of a wide-ranging effort by the NRA, aided by the model legislation factory ALEC, to expand their power in state legislatures and capture more and more rights for gun owners.
The next legal move will be an arraignment, scheduled for May 29.