Zimmerman: Jury Instructions for Second Degree Murder and Self-defense

Posted: July 12, 2012 in criminal justice system
Tags: , ,

by Frederick Leatherman

Cross posted from Frederick Leatherman Law Blog.

Here are some definitions for y’all to keep in mind.

George Zimmerman. Photo by Seminole County Sheriffs / Wikimedia Commons.

All state and federal trial courts use sets of pattern instructions that are submitted to juries to follow during their deliberations. The instructions define legal terms, the elements of the crimes charged and the relevant defense claimed by the defendant. They also include a presumption of innocence, burden of proof, and definition of reasonable doubt instruction that is given in all criminal cases.

You are in an upper level graduate school course so you know this part by heart:

The defendant, George Zimmerman, is presumed innocent and remains innocent unless the jury unanimously finds him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The defendant has no burden to produce any evidence or to testify in this case. He has a constitutional right to not testify and the jury may not assume anything regarding his silence.

The State has the burden of proving each element of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt.

Since the defendant admits killing Trayvon Martin, but claims he was legally justified to do so in self-defense, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not kill Trayvon Martin in self-defense.

A reasonable doubt is a doubt for which a reason exists. It is such a doubt as would exist in the mind of a reasonable person after fully, fairly and carefully considering all of the evidence or lack of evidence.

Each side is entitled to the benefit or detriment of the evidence, regardless of which side introduced it.

Evidence may be either direct or circumstantial. Direct evidence is perceived directly by the senses: vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Circumstantial evidence is inferred from a chain of circumstances which in ordinary common experience leads to a particular conclusion. One type of evidence is not necessarily better or worse than the other. It is for the jury to decide how much weight to give to the evidence.

Murder in the Second Degree

In Florida second degree murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual.

Imminently dangerous conduct means conduct that creates what a reasonable person would realize as an immediate and extremely high degree of risk of death to another person.

A person evinces a depraved mind when he engages in imminently dangerous conduct with no regard for the life of another person.

The Florida jury instruction for second degree murder (Fla. Std. Jury Instr. (Crim.) 7.4) provides that an act is imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind if it is one that

1. A person of ordinary judgment would know is reasonably certain to kill or do serious bodily injury to another

and

2. Is done from ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent

and

3. Is of such a nature that the act itself indicates an indifference to human life.

Element number 2 will be the battleground and that is why I italicized it.

Self-Defense Instruction

This is the pattern jury instruction for self-defense that the State must disprove beyond a reasonable doubt.

An issue in this case is whether the defendant acted in self-defense. It is a defense to the charge of Murder in the Second Degree with which the defendant is charged if the death of Trayvon Martin resulted from the justifiable use of deadly force.

“Deadly force” means force likely to cause death or great bodily harm.

In deciding whether defendant was justified in the use of deadly force, you must judge him by the circumstances by which he was surrounded at the time the force was used. The danger facing the defendant need not have been actual; however, to justify the use of deadly force, the appearance of danger must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force. Based upon appearances, the defendant must have actually believed that the danger was real.

A person is justified in using deadly force if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another.

No duty to retreat..

There is no duty to retreat where the defendant was not engaged in any unlawful activity other than the crime for which the defendant asserts the justification.

If the defendant 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.

An Aggressor Cannot Claim Self-Defense

The legal justification to use deadly force in self-defense is not available to a person who:

1. Initially provokes the use of force against himself, unless such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm

and

2. That he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant.

These instructions or ones that are substantially similar will be given, if this case goes to trial.

The lawyers on both sides will be preparing for trial with these instructions in mind and y’all should keep them in mind as we continue to evaluate and discuss the evidence.

Keep in mind that Trayvon Martin’s alleged use of force may have been legally justified as reasonable force in self-defense while standing his own ground. The State will have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted in lawful self-defense in order to prove that GZ’s use of deadly force was not legally justified in self-defense.

Clear as mud you say?

That’s why we have a comments section, right?

Last one in the pool is a rotten egg.

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