After all the fuss and talk about Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, it looks like George Zimmerman won't pursue that strategy after all.
Zimmerman's lawyers told the court Tuesday that they're waiving their client's right to a pre-trial "Stand Your Ground" hearing that was scheduled for April. Barring any unforeseen changes, Zimmerman's trial for second-degree murder will begin June 10.
Many expected Zimmerman to seek a pre-trial hearing as to whether "Stand Your Ground" applied in his case. But his waiver doesn't mean the issue will be ignored at trial.
What Happens at a 'Stand Your Ground' Hearing?
Under Florida law, "Stand Your Ground" can potentially grant prosecutorial immunity to a defendant who is accused of murder.
If a defendant can prove at a "Stand Your Ground" hearing that his use of lethal force was justified as necessary for personal protection, then the criminal charges will immediately be dropped. The defendant then can't be prosecuted on the issue.
Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, thinks being found not guilty by a jury will be better than a grant of immunity, reports NBC News. Perhaps he's hoping a "not guilty" verdict will improve Zimmerman's public image.
Self-Defense Can Still Be Raised
Just because the pre-trial hearing was waived doesn't mean that Zimmerman also waived his right to defend himself.
At trial, O'Mara can still raise the issue of self-defense as a justification for Zimmerman's actions. That theory could be used to convince the jury that Zimmerman isn't guilty.
Evidence of self-defense can also be used to convince the jury that Zimmerman is guilty of a lesser crime than the one charged. That could mean a less severe sentence.
Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law has been associated with this case because of all the discussion about it after Trayvon Martin was killed. But Zimmerman doesn't have to use it to be successful at trial.
As the defendant, Zimmerman only needs to prevent the prosecution from meeting its burden of proof. In this case, prosecutors must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Zimmerman is guilty. When the defense presents its case, their goal will be to cast doubt on the prosecution's arguments and make it impossible for them to meet that burden.
Zimmerman and O'Mara will need a strategy to do that at trial, since they won't be seeking a "Stand Your Ground" immunity hearing. That means we'll all be waiting until June.
- George Zimmerman to Skip 'Stand Your Ground Hearing' That Could End Case (ABC News)
- States That Have Stand Your Ground Laws (FindLaw)
- Zimmerman Seeks 6-Month Trial Delay (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Stand Your Ground Defense Denied in FL Vet's Killing (FindLaw's Blotter)