Federal authorities have announced that they are now intervening in the investigation of the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. That will certainly enhance the completion of forensic evidence, which we discussed earlier as critical to a case like this one. I have previously cautioned that this is not such an easy case as has been suggested, even with the 911 tapes. One of the greatest barriers is the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law.
I am as angry about this shooting as others. However, there remain difficult questions under the existing evidence. The intervention of the Justice Department adds an interesting element While racism has been alleged, the statement by the Justice Department notably does not lay out the basis for intervention and does not say that local police asked for the assistance. That may produce questions from the family why this is a federal matter as opposed to a local matter. While Zimmerman is described as “white,” his family has insisted that “George is a Spanish speaking minority with many black family members and friends.” That does not necessarily mean that this is not a hate crime or civil rights violation. However, it is possible that Zimmerman acted out of his zeal as a “watchman” as opposed to race — the stated view of the police chief.
The DOJ is clearly treating it as a racially motivated shooting since the Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with the FBI, is participating in the investigation. Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa states “The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation. The department also is providing assistance to and cooperating with the state officials in their investigation into the incident.” Cooperating is a different matter than a request for assistance. If they were not asked for assistance by the police, the question is whether the Justice Department views the local police as itself somewhat suspect in the handling of the case. We previously discussed legitimate complaints about aspects of the police investigation.
The most significant issue is the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law. The law protects citizens in their use of lethal force in self-defense. The law, found in 20 states, is an expansion of the protection afforded under Castle doctrine or “Make My Day” laws for shootings in the home. I have long been a critic of those laws.
The key component of the law is that it allows lethal force when a person reasonably perceives a serious threat of harm and such force is reasonable under the circumstances. Zimmerman is likely to cite the fact that he was bleeding from the struggle — even though he outweighed the teen significantly and was armed.
The concern of these laws is that the use of reasonable force is already protected under the common law. The laws are read to offer broader protection than the common law, which already has ample protection for reasonable force. The law specifically negated the requirement of retreat under state law. The law states in pertinent part:
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.
That still allows for serious question over whether, even if Martin did struggle with Zimmerman, there remains the notion of a fear of serious bodily injury.
I have said that aspects of the case remains murky. That is not to say that an indictment cannot be brought on the existing evidence, as I has said before. Again, the most salient facts against him are (1) the statement on the 911 tape showing animus, (2) the disregarded instructions not to follow Martin, (3) the advantage in weight and possession of a firearm in the struggle, and (4) the lack of any weapon or proof of criminal conduct by Martin.
While the basis for the intervention by the DOJ remains a bit murky itself, it may help with the many unanswered forensic questions. I am most interested in (1) the trajectory of the bullet, (2) the distance of the shooting, (3) the extent of injuries beyond the bullet wound on both men, and (4) the forensic analysis of the background of the 911 calls. Additionally, some have argued that the tape of Zimmerman has him using a racial slur, though many others have said that he is actually saying “punks.” An audio forensic expert could answer that question, which would relate directly to the purpose of the federal investigation.
Source: Washington Post