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Zimmerman Video: Did Cops Actually Arrest Him?

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By Andrew Chow, Esq. on March 29, 2012 7:00 PM

Video of George Zimmerman, taken after he shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, has reinforced calls for Zimmerman's arrest and prosecution. It also raises technical questions about police procedure.

An attorney for Martin's parents told Fox News the video contradicts Zimmerman's claim that Trayvon broke his nose and slammed his head into a sidewalk, because Zimmerman does not appear visibly injured. But Zimmerman's lawyer insists the footage is too grainy to prove anything.

Still, the video does show Zimmerman in handcuffs.

So was Zimmerman technically "under arrest" in the video? Is he even "in custody"?

The answer seems to be: It depends.

There are no absolute rules about when a person is considered to be "in custody." In general, the test is whether a reasonable person would feel free to leave under the circumstances. Being handcuffed, or locked inside a police cruiser, can fit the bill.

Similarly, an "arrest" occurs when police take a person "into custody" in connection with a crime, and that person is no longer free to leave.

At first glance, that seems to be what happened to George Zimmerman. Video taken at Sanford's police headquarters and obtained by ABC News shows Zimmerman emerging from a police cruiser in handcuffs and being led into an interrogation room. You can watch the video here:

Sanford police, however, say Zimmerman was never formally under arrest, and he was released without charges. Police Chief Bill Lee, who temporarily stepped down from his post last week, has said Florida's Stand Your Ground law prevented officers from arresting Zimmerman, because he claimed self-defense.

Legal questions raised by George Zimmerman's video will likely be answered by a grand jury, which is set to convene April 10. If jurors indict Zimmerman in connection with Trayvon Martin's killing, expect a formal arrest to follow.

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