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3 Key Questions for George Zimmerman's Jury

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on July 12, 2013 1:54 PM

George Zimmerman's jurors heard closing arguments and were given jury instructions on Friday. As deliberations begin, they have many issues to contemplate in this closely watched case.

To let you step into jurors' shoes for just a moment, here are three key questions that the Zimmerman jury will have to consider before reaching a verdict:

1. Second-Degree Murder or Manslaughter?

George Zimmerman's jury has been instructed to consider finding the Florida man guilty of manslaughter as an alternative to second-degree murder.

Finding Zimmerman guilty of manslaughter would free up the jurors from having to consider whether Trayvon Martin's shooter had a "depraved indifference to human life" when he shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old.

Jurors facing this dilemma will focus on whether they believe Zimmerman had an utter disregard for Martin's life when he fired on the teen.

2. Self-Defense or Not?

Regardless of whether jurors want to pursue a theory of manslaughter or second-degree murder, they were instructed Friday to find Zimmerman not guilty if they believe he shot Martin in self-defense.

The jury was also reminded that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman did not shoot Martin in self-defense, in order for the jury to disregard self-defense.

Among the evidence to be considered by the jury is testimony that Zimmerman was punched and injured in a possible fight with Martin, and that Zimmerman was in reasonable fear for his life or safety before he pulled the trigger.

3. Guilty or Not Guilty?

After considering theories of homicide and justifiable self-defense, the jury will ultimately need to consider whether Zimmerman is guilty of a crime, despite his presumption of innocence.

As the judge reiterated, jurors cannot consider Zimmerman's decision not to testify as any indication of his guilt or innocence, as that was a valid exercise of his Fifth Amendment right.

Ultimately, the jury may decide to convict or acquit according to the following formulas:

  • Indifference to life + No self-defense = Guilty of second-degree murder.
  • Recklessness (but not indifference) + No self-defense = Guilty of manslaughter.
  • Indifference or Recklessness + Self-defense = Not guilty.

In all of these hypothetical verdicts, the Zimmerman jury would need to find the elements of each crime are present beyond a reasonable doubt before imposing a guilty verdict.

A second-degree murder conviction means a possible life sentence for Zimmerman. A manslaughter conviction, on the other hand, means Zimmerman can potentially face to up to 30 years behind bars.

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