AAR: STATE OF FLORIDA VS. GEORGE ZIMMERMAN

The criminal aftermath is over for George Zimmerman.  (Contrary to the drivel of some legal pundits, there is no legitimate basis whatsoever for federal criminal charges).  Zimmerman has successfully negotiated the near impossible battle of both mortal combat and courtroom trial, the latter after undeserved and overwhelming demonization by the media. 

First, let’s get the deserved moral outrage out of the way.  My opinion is short, but not that simple:  The prosecution was politically motivated pandering and a miscalculation of Constitutional proportions by a dopey governor and trial prosecutors who ignored facts and law.   How do I know this?  The chief of the prosecutor’s office gave a press conference shortly after the verdict which brazenly confirmed the foregoing … beyond any reasonable doubt.  Guess what? Does not happen frequently, but it does happen.  You carry a gun?  Accept it.  You should already realize even an innocent or noble misadventure can turn into one of “the gravest extreme.”  (Read the book of similar title, by Massad Ayoob).   Sadly, good public servants lost their jobs.  Maybe not so noble elected officials should too.

I followed the case from start to finish, including watching the entire trial in real time.   I read hundreds of articles and editorials, probably almost a dozen every other day, for a year.  I previously wrote for MSW on the use of deadly force and “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) laws in a two-part post which included my paradigm CAN-MAY-SHOULD-MUST (here and here), and later provided a historical perspective of SYG before the Zimmerman trial began (here).

I write now to identify some “lessons learned” I noted from the Zimmerman case which I think will be of particular interest to MSW readers.  I foreshadowed in other writings some of these before Zimmerman was called on to defend himself from death or great bodily harm on February 26, 2012.  See my May/June 2011 article in American COP on civilian defensive shootings, and Massad Ayoob’s critique of my suggestions for LEOs involved in an OIS, in the June 2010 issue of Guns and Weapons For Law Enforcement.  There are numerous sources, including entire books, where lawyers and laypersons have offered aftermath suggestions.  Read and consider their suggestions too.  Take and use what will work best for you.

In no particular order, for non-LEOs and/or LEOs, as may be applicable:

·        Train, read, practice.  Document it.  No matter what any prosecutor says, you can never be too prepared, too smart, or too good.

·        Have a plan, maybe two or three.  Remember Messrs. Murphy and Finagle lurk 24/7.

·        Assume in a fight you will be grounded and/or unable to use one of your hands, even if not seriously injured.  Select and position gear (and reloads and backup) accordingly.

·        If you go hands-on with a younger, stronger, and quicker opponent, you will last 20 seconds or less if you are not in control.  If you are doing something and it isn’t working, quickly try something else.

·        Shot placement trumps all, except the mind.

·        Don’t speak unnecessarily to law enforcement and never without counsel.  Say only enough to convince them you were in the right.  (Maybe you will not be arrested).   Law enforcement officers are often friendly, but law enforcement is not your friend.  Investigators have taken an oath to do their job properly.   Assume (and hope) they will. 

·        Do not speak in public or to the press, or do reconstructions for law enforcement without extra cautious consideration by you, counsel, and a second attorney specifically consulted for that purpose alone. 

·        Make no “social” media postings after the event. Be cautious in what you post before too.

·        When armed, avoid unknown risk encounters with strangers, unless you are a LEO paid to do just that.

·        Understand fully your state’s law of self-defense and use of force.  Knowledge of the law will be imputed to you anyway.  Know what constitutes deadly force and what (by legal and medical standards) are injuries which are life threatening or “grave,” “great,” or “serious” bodily harm (whatever the standard is in your state).  If you do not understand the word “imminent,” look it up.  Repeat often.

·        Give due consideration to the SHOULD principle of my paradigm.  Repeat.

·        If you are involved in a shooting, make sure evidence and witnesses are identified promptly on scene and preserved.  You are your own (and best) first responder.

·        Go easy with profanity and epithets directed at people.

·        If you speak after a shooting, speak only the truth.  No guessing or making assumptions.  If you do not remember or are unsure of something, say so, don’t embellish.  Assume there was video and audio of your incident.

·        The decision if and how to render aid to a malefactor is complex.  Disturbing the forensic evidence, leaving the scene to retrieve a medical kit, and bodily fluids exchange are ill-advised.  (The failure to render aid is not per se legally or morally damning as the Zimmerman prosecutors suggested).  In any event, tend to yourself and innocent others first.

·        Good lawyers, investigators, and experts do not grow on trees in bunches.  Find and interview them, don’t trust those that may find you.   Make sure your attorney will not speak to the press without you first approving the content.  Get a separate attorney and consultant to represent you in that process.

·        A good jury consultant is as important as your choice of attorney, investigator, and experts.  Maybe more so.

·        Secure membership in an organization that will help you with the legal aftermath.  I like the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network.  (Do it now, before you have the need).

·        Consider carrying less lethal options (impact, OC, TASER) and/or learning a defensive martial art, but don’t ignore your physical shortcomings and the likely inadequacy of less lethal against potentially lethal force.

·        Stay in shape as best you can, in light of your personal circumstances and lifestyle.

·        Make a checklist beforehand for a relative/friend to follow to help you immediately post incident.  Give it to two people.  If you are involved in a shooting, that is the call or text to make after 911.

·        Never give consent for your cell phone, vehicle, or any other property to be searched by law enforcement, unless directed to by counsel after counsel has thoroughly reviewed what will be produced.

·        If you are asked to go to a police station or sheriff’s office voluntarily for an interview/statement, do it days later, and bring counsel.  Assume you may be charged at that time.

·        There is nothing ignoble about invoking the Fifth Amendment privilege.  It was written for the innocent as well as the guilty.

·        Get the most reliable gun and best quality holster you can afford.  They should be what you carry and shoot best, whether or not comfortable or convenient or what others use.  Get seconds.  Don’t rely on the advice of just one person for your selection.  The final decision is of course yours alone.  It is your life and freedom at stake.  Be prepared to defend your choices under oath against both a ridiculous and educated cross examination.

·        Remember that just because state law says you MAY stand your ground and use defensive force, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. 

·        Good appearance and clothing matter, so use common sense when armed in public.

·        Phone conversation, especially to a 911 dispatcher, is distracting and may put you behind the curve tactically.  Give your particulars, say what you need/want, answer questions briefly, obey commands (if appropriate and correct), and politely and promptly disengage.

·        Unless you are a LEO, never pursue unless the rescue of innocent human life is absolutely necessary and the attendant circumstances are unmistakable. 

·        Employ verbal skills and command presence promptly at distance before CQB is forced upon you.

·        Don’t expect to be considered a hero who saved an innocent life. 

Those are some of my thoughts.   You may do as well as George Zimmerman did whether you heed none, some, or all.   In the end, it may come down to nothing more than what it likely was for him, a fearful and lucky shot in the dark.   Nonetheless, Pasteur clearly got it right when he said “chance favors the prepared mind.”

Keep cool, be prepared, and consider the words of John Farnham:  The best way to win a gunfight is by not being there.”

This entry was posted in Fitness, Training by Steven Harris. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Harris

Steve Harris is an experienced attorney (member of Florida Bar, 1979) who has represented federal agents and local LEOs in duty related matters. He has written and lectured about officer involved shootings, self-defense, and use of force law, including "Stand Your Ground." Steve has been a seasoned and active competitive handgun shooter for over 20 years.

14 thoughts on “AAR: STATE OF FLORIDA VS. GEORGE ZIMMERMAN

  1. Thanks Steve for articulating so much good information/advice in one article!

    I have been advocating many of the points you raised only to be met by a skeptical listener/audience. Especially the element talking to LEOs/investigators without legal counsel present!

    Most folks do not understand SCOTUS decision in Miranda v. Arizona. Folks seem to believe if involved in a self defense incident, law enforcement will help them if they talk to investigators. Ironically, there is no legal requirement in Miranda for such.

    Even more disconcerting, the recent SCOTUS ruling in Salinas v. Texas where pre-Miranda silence can be introduced by prosecutors as evidence of guilt! Wow! Talk about another reason why not agreeing to be interviewed by law enforcement without legal counsel present!

    For all the reasons you state, in addition to Salinas, why it is more imperative than ever, not to talk to law enforcement at all unless legal counsel is present, perhaps other than to simply state, “I discharged my firearm in self defense”.

    Thanks again for an excellent article!

    • Ah yes, Salinas. Been thinking about that in the self defense shooting situation. Haven’t decided its effect. There is something known as the separate proceeding concept which suggests silence on scene or later does not bar subsequent invocation of Fifth Amendment privilege. Don’t know how that will all shake out. Thanks for the positive response.

  2. Good, solid advice. I question, however, the wisdom of having LTL option(s) on your person and having to justify shooting. Thoughts?

    • Your point is one that has been argued before, but is mostly settled. I would justify less lethal as being carried for animals and those human threats perceived to constitute unlawful force, but not deadly force. The law is pretty clear for LEO’s (and most likely in many states for private citizens) that if the use of deadly force is believed to be necessary/reasonable and therefore lawful, there is no obligation to first engage a threat with less lethal, even if it might have worked. I still wonder myself how juries view the availability of less lethal when deadly force is used. I suspect they expect less lethal to be used first against an “unarmed” subject.

  3. Im not sure if this is the tone your article is meant to convey but I really dont think anyone except Zimmerman should be celebrating his victory in court. The altercation happening in the first place was his fault. He profiled the poor kid for christsakes, ignored instructions from 911 dispatchers and, from everything Ive read on the matter, likely provoked him in the first place. Zimmerman seems like he was eager to shoot.

    All that said, your preparedness advice is sound and much appreciated.

    • Sounds like ‘from everything you’ve read’ came exclusively from media accounts intended to demonize Zimmerman. Fortunately, getting tried in the media doesn’t count as much as getting tried in court – where he was allowed a defense and the prosecution isn’t allowed to ‘edit’ evidence a La NBC & the 911.

      • Shouldn’t everyone celebrate when a wrongfully (morally, legally, and factually) accused criminal defendant is acquitted and justice prevails? That is precisely what happened. Bad judgment is not in itself a crime.

        The frustrations you expressed are held by many. I think if you saw and heard all the evidence at trial (including that not admitted or ruled admissible but not introduced) you would not have reached your stated conclusions or referred to Martin as a “poor kid”. According to the State Attorney today, Zimmerman profiled someone he thought he was a “criminal.” That is not the pejorative “profiling.” The dispatcher testified Zimmerman was NOT given “instructions”. There was no evidence that Zimmerman “provoked” Martin in a manner which would alter the usual principles of the law of self defense. Provocation was naked speculation of the prosecutors and those who wanted him to be demonized.

        There was material I read which did not portray Zimmerman as a demon, including almost all of the evidence presented in court. I read/saw all of that and also many conservative legal and pro self defense blogs which didn’t demonize him. The readership of those is however, much smaller than that of the demonizing ones.

        Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

        • Steve….I agree.

          Most media outlets and individuals in particular, extrapolate bits of information form the trail and pretrial hearings to form their opinions, which for the most part, do not reflect the truth.

          I recorded, unedited stream of the trial/hearings and watched the entire proceedings.

          There is simply no evidence, nothing to be extrapolated other than what Zimmerman has stated occurred. It matters not that he is the only living person who witnessed the entire event. The evidence presented AND the evidence excluded from trial corroborate Zimmerman’s story to the exclusion of all other scenarios.

          Sadly, IMO, the Governor, and the Special Prosecutor failed the the public’s interest in this matter. Both have a fair and moral obligation to both Zimmerman AND Martin. Corey cannot exclude one simply in the face of mounting public opinion.

          Corey, as an officer of the court, she has taken an oath to uphold the law. In reflection, can one really believe this to be the case? Abandoning a 18 person (citizens from Seminole County, FL) Grand Jury and filing 2nd Degree Murder charges the following day is not adhering to the fairness doctrines of our laws. Yes, Corey was entitled to file such charges, but, why dismiss the Grand Jury? Political pressure? Can such action be deemed fair due process for Zimmerman?

          Now we wait to hear about possible prosecutor sanctions for withholding exculpatory evidence. Can Judge Nelson render a fair decision in this matter?

          Corey fired her office’s IT supervisor yesterday for revealing, during testimony, the fact that not all information (exculpatory evidence) from Martin’s cell phone was turned over to the defense. There is a lot more to come, and play out regarding this entire prosecution.

          Finally, and scarier, when the State (government) elects to engage the criminal process against a citizen outside the bounds of fair due process, liberties of all citizens are at risk!

          • So much for proof reading and spell checker…..

            Second paragraph…correction.

            “…from the trial…”

  4. The little that I watched of the trial confirmed my view and the beaten up Zimmerman pictures helped. I cant believe someone blames Zimmerman if they watched some of the trial and not listened to the edited/fabbed/lies in the left wing media. I am appauled at what our media has become in giving free passes to anything left and attacking anything on the right! While I think Zimmerman never should of gotten out of his car as a CCW holder, he took a bad beating before he decided his life was in danger and responded. What about the four on one beating in Georgia recently where the white victim was killed at the convience store?? Where are the civil rights activists?

  5. And further….

    Since when, is it a prosecutors job to engage criminal proceedings when they can not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt and solely want to appease the victim’s family (recall Corey visited and prayed with the Martin’s before filing charges) and let a jury ultimately decide the matter?

    If the standards by which Cory used to file charges and engage the criminal process were the norm, the accused would be sitting in jail or out on bond for years because the judicial system would grind to an absolute halt.

    Corey’s process was not and is not the foundation of our legal system and philosophy.

  6. But one must always remember…

    A 17 year old youth, who simply ran to the store to get candy/drink before a televised basketball game, who did nothing wrong until he assaulted Zimmerman, is dead.

    This is a sad event where the holes of 100 pieces of Swiss cheese (factors/elements of the confrontation) had to align for this outcome. All these factors are just that, factors that ultimately contributed to the end result. If only one of those slices had not aligned, we would have never heard of Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman.

  7. I think Zimmermans account of what happened is probably accurate. The only think that makes me uncomfortable is the whole 2 guys walk into a room and 5 minutes later one guy walks out and the other guy is dead. And guess what? the dead guy always started it. And sense no one saw what happened the guy that is living story is what happened. Things like this always just don’t set right, even if common sense and accounts say otherwise.

    • At least one juror saw it similar to you. She voted not guilty. I hope you would have too.

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