Posted On: April 10, 2012 by Leifert & Leifert

Fort Lauderdale Self-Defense Cases Impacted by Trayvon Martin Slaying

Will Fort Lauderdale self-defense cases suffer in the wake of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford? danger.jpg

That's a concern of Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys. While the facts and implications of the case - which is still under investigation - have been combed through by analysts across the country, one aspect that hasn't received much discussion is what the effect will be on cases in which there is a legitimate claim of self-defense.

While this case has become racially charged, the fact is self-defense is, and must be, a legitimate defense when a violent death occurs.

For anyone who may have been living under a rock the last month or so, here's what we know about the Martin case: That Trayvon was walking home from the store with a bag of candy and iced tea in his pocket. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, called 911 to report a suspicious person, wearing a hoodie, cutting through yards. The dispatcher instructed him not to follow the suspicious person, but he did so anyway. A confrontation of some sort ensued, and Zimmerman shot Trayvon.

Initially, police declined to press charges against Zimmerman, citing Florida's Stand Your Ground Law, or FL Statute 776.013, passed in 2005, which in essence says you do not have an obligation to retreat if you are attacked, and can use deadly force if necessary. It's very similar to the state's self-defense laws, though it primarily applies to an attack that occurs in the victim's home.

The initial lack of prosecution in the case sparked a national outrage, prompting the police chief in Sanford to step down and the governor to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the case. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice is conducting its own review.

So what does all this really mean for the rest of us?

Ultimately, it's an unfortunate climate for people who may have been placed under arrest for a violent crime, and yet have a viable claim of self defense. Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys will need to proceed with extra care in scrutinizing potential jurors, who will need to be questioned about the so-called "Trayvon Factor." That is, can they weigh a Stand Your Ground claim in a way that is specific to the facts of the case before them - and not what happened in the Trayvon Martin case.

In Stand Your Ground and other self-defense cases, a judge in Florida can hold an evidentiary hearing to decide whether an individual acted in self-defense. It's an immunity hearing held to a lesser standard than the one jurors use, which is beyond a reasonable doubt. The issue here is that judges are elected officials. They could be hesitant to toss out criminal charges on the basis of self-defense, given the current political climate.

Just take for example Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beth Bloom. She dismissed a murder charge against a man who killed another who had reportedly broken into his car and then threw a hefty bag of car radios at him. The decision made local police livid and garnered nationwide attention, just as the Trayvon Martin case was beginning to gain steam.

Judges make unpopular - and difficult - decisions all the time. But the fact that this is an election year can't be entirely ignored as a possible element in certain cases.

Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys will need to tread carefully and with an understanding of the impact of Trayvon's death in weighing their strategy in other cases.

If you need criminal defense in Broward or Palm Beach counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
Florida defense attorneys fear backlash in self-defense cases, By DAVID OVALLE, The Miami Herald

More Blog Entries:
Fort Lauderdale Police Arrests Put Criminal Cases in Jeopardy, Nov. 3, 2011, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Lawyer Blog