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Don't Blame The George Zimmerman Verdict On 'Stand Your Ground'

·Deputy Managing Editor
Trayvon Martin George Zimmerman
Trayvon Martin George Zimmerman

Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn

Community activist Najee Ali holds Skittles and an ice tea during a peaceful protest of the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, in Los Angeles, California July 15, 2013.

The not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman case has spurred calls to reform "Stand Your Ground" laws in 22 states that let people shoot intruders even if they have the chance to run away.

But Zimmerman's defense didn't rely on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law in court and instead simply argued that Zimmerman killed 17-year-0ld Trayvon Martin in self-defense.

In self-defense cases, Florida prosecutors have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant did not act in self-defense.

That's the case in a lot of other states, too, and it was a high hurdle in the Zimmerman case in light of his injuries and a neighbor's testimony that Martin was straddling him.

"Most states are going to have the same burden to meet," Florida attorney Greg Newburn told Business Insider. "I really don't think this case would be any different in other states, which have commonlaw self-defense."

(One notable exception is the Buckeye State, which puts the burden of proof for self-defense on the defendant and not the prosecutors.)

In 2005, Florida passed its "Stand Your Ground" law, which specifically says people have "no duty to retreat" if they're attacked in a place where they have a "right to be." Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, said he didn't need to rely on that statute to defend him because his client never had the chance to retreat.

"Stand Your Ground" law opponents still argue the statute is related to the case, contending it encourages recklessness. Opponents will also point out that "Stand Your Ground" affected the instructions the Zimmerman jury received even though O'Mara didn't explicitly invoke the defense in court.

Before "Stand Your Ground," jurors would have received this instruction, the Florida Sun-Sentinel's Dan Gelber points out:

"The fact that the defendant was wrongfully attacked cannot justify his use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm if by retreating he could have avoided the need to use that force. "

In a post-"Stand Your Ground" world, the Zimmerman jurors received this instruction:

"If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."

We'll never know whether Martin was pinning Zimmerman to the ground when he killed him, but the defense has a plausible theory he never had a chance to get away. The outcome of this case might have been exactly the same even without "Stand Your Ground."

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