Juror B37: Self-Defense Key to Zimmerman Verdict

Article Placeholder Image
By Brett Snider, Esq. on July 16, 2013 11:42 AM

After the controversial Travyon Martin homicide case ended Saturday with a not-guilty verdict, the nation was left wondering how each juror came to acquit George Zimmerman.

For Juror B37, who spoke openly with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Monday, the decision rested with her belief that Zimmerman "had a right to defend himself."

How might Florida's self-defense law, which includes a "Stand Your Ground" provision, have affected B37 and her fellow jurors in reaching their decision?

Initial Vote Split

Although a unanimous verdict was reached on Saturday, Juror B37 explained that the six-person jury was initially split down the middle on the question of guilt.

B37 was among the three jurors who initially believed Zimmerman was not guilty, stating that if anything Zimmerman was guilty of not using "good judgment," according to a CNN transcript of her interview.

One question that eventually brought the jurors out of deadlock was how Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law applies to manslaughter.

Manslaughter Question

Jurors deliberating on Saturday had paused to ask Judge Debra Nelson to clarify the jury instructions for the lesser included charge of manslaughter, reports ABC News.

The jury instructions in question called for jurors to consider whether Zimmerman had shot and killed Martin accidentally in a "heat of passion" or whether he had "stood his ground" and shot Martin in defense of an anticipated murder.

In either scenario, the jury instructions called for a not-guilty verdict. But many jurors were confused by this distinction, Juror B37 said.

Self-Defense or Heat of Passion

Juror B37 recounted that one juror asked whether the circumstances leading up to the shooting could be considered for self-defense, or if it was "the heat of passion at that moment," according to a CNN transcript.

This statement suggests a general confusion with these concepts regarding manslaughter. Here is a "quick" clarification:

  • Self-defense is an affirmative defense to murder or manslaughter that requires reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or death. When coupled with Florida's "Stand Your Ground" provision, it does not require a defendant to try to run or retreat before using reasonable force to defend against a "forcible felony."
  • Heat of passion is typically used to mitigate killings in which the defendant intended to kill or seriously injure the victim, but only because he was overwhelmed by the "heat of passion" brought on by a victim's provocation. When there is no intent to kill, and a person's act in the "heat of passion" accidentally causes a death, a defendant is not guilty of manslaughter.

The jurors may have used some pieces or amalgam of these concepts to return with a not guilty verdict. It's also interesting to note that despite worries to the contrary, Juror B37 told Anderson Cooper that she and fellow jurors "thought race did not play a role" in Martin's killing.

Related Resources: