Trayvon killer drops "stand your ground" defense

George Zimmerman will not seek immunity through the controversial law that had been central to the case


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Natasha Lennard
March 6, 2013 7:16PM (UTC)

When George Zimmerman shot dead unarmed teen Trayvon Martin one year ago, Florida's "stand your ground" laws came under national scrutiny when it appeared that the gunman would avoid prosecution by claiming self-defense under the legislation. However, Zimmerman's attorney announced Tuesday that the defendant would not be seeking immunity from prosecution under "stand your ground" -- controversial legislation that spread to two dozen states last year based on model bills designed by the NRA and ALEC.

Although Zimmerman will still pursue a self-defense argument in his June trial, his attorney told a judge to cancel the specific "stand your ground" hearing scheduled for April, in which his client was expected to seek immunity. Essentially, the decision to drop a "stand your ground" defense indicates that Zimmerman's lawyers hope to show at trial that their client was not in a position to retreat. Self-defense laws usually demand that an individual make every possible attempt to defuse a situation before attempts at retreat are exhausted, in which case the use of deadly force is legally justified. "Stand your ground" removes this "duty to retreat" stipulation -- lethal force is justified simply if a shooter “had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful act was occurring or had occurred.” If Zimmerman's team believe they can show he shot Martin as a last resort, there's no need to invoke "stand your ground."

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Zimmerman's lawyer has indicated before now that the "stand your ground" exception for using lethal force would not apply in this case. “In this particular case, George did not have an ability to retreat because he was on the ground with Trayvon Martin mounting him, striking blows, therefore the Stand Your Ground ‘benefit’ given by the statute simply does not apply to the facts of George’s case: it is traditional self-defense,” Zimmerman’s attorneys said on the website detailing his legal case.

As the Guardian noted Wednesday, prosecutors "will counter that Zimmerman, who had previously called in cases of unidentified males walking in the community, was an overzealous busybody who pursued and harassed an unarmed teenager before killing him with intent."


Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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