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Sanford case may affect self-defense across the state

April 16, 2012

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The highly publicized Trayvon Martin case has caused concerns for opponents and proponents of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. Local criminal lawyers are concerned that the nationwide publicity garnered by the Martin case will somehow limit their clients' ability to prevail either at trial or during a pre-trial motion to dismiss. Some Miami defense attorneys believe that the highly publicized case will have a negative impact on judges and jurors alike. It is unfortunate that the media can play such a large part in determining the outcome of a criminal case. As most people know, the case stems from an incident that occurred between a neighborhood watch captain and local youth. Martin was killed during a struggle with George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida.

According to the media, defense lawyers must be concerned with the Trayvon factor in cases involving self-defense. Stand Your Ground has been an effective defense technique for individuals charged with violent crimes such as murder, manslaughter, aggravated battery and aggravated assault. According to Nellie King, the president of Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (FACDL), defense counsel will have to take precautions during jury selection in cases involving self-defense. In criminal trials, jury selection is often considered the most important segment. The purpose of jury selection is to find jurors that can be both fair and impartial to the state. In Miami-Dade County, judges use questionnaires to determine whether or not a potential juror would be fair and impartial. The prosecution and the defense are permitted to ask more detailed questions in an effort to find a proper jury. Defense lawyers representing clients basing their defense on self-defense must now inquire of jurors whether or not the Martin case will impact the decision they make regarding the case they over which they will preside.

The "Stand Your Ground" gives the power to the judge to determine whether or not a defendant should be immune from prosecution. The hearing is conducted outside the presence of jury and the judge is the sole finder of fact. If the judge believes that a defendant acted appropriately in self-defense within the bounds of the law, it is within his or her purview to dismiss the charge. If judge declines to dismiss the case, the defense can still argue self-defense to the jury. If the jury believes the defendant acted appropriately, then they will return an acquittal.

Opponents of the "Stand Your Ground" law believe that the law promotes vigilantes taking matters into their own hands. They also believe that the defense of self-defense is a matter that should be left up to jurors to decide. Public outcry has caused the governor of the State of Florida to appoint a special prosecutor to look at the facts of the case to determine whether or not Zimmerman should face murder or manslaughter charges. The appointment resulted from local law enforcement officers and prosecutors decision not to arrest or prosecute the case. In another note, the governor and a panel elected officials have been appointed to review the law as it currently stands on the books.

Florida Defense Attorneys Fear Backlash in Self-Defense Cases,, Miami, April 5, 2012.
Categories: Self-Defense
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