Did Trayvon Martin have the right to stand his own ground?

This question doesn’t seem to be debated in any of the other threads. In order to keep this from turning into the general debate around this case I would like to ask for everyone to try and stay on topic.

Did Trayvon Martin under the law in Florida have the right to stand his own ground? If he felt that he was in immediate danger was he well within his rights to stand his ground? I think he was, I think he could reasonably come to the conclusion that GZ meant to do him harm and would be within his rights to stand his ground using the only weapon he had, his person.

I’m posting from a mobile device, please excuse brevity or typographical errors.

It is my opinion, and I have no training as a lawyer, that he most certainly had every right to “Stand His Ground,” under Florida Law. Had the encounter gone the other way, with Zimmerman the bloody corpse on the ground, I believe Martin could have presented a solid case that he was defending himself against almost certain severe injury or death at the hands of a racist, homicidal maniac.

That said, it should be obvious that the limitations and benefits of the “Stand Your Ground” defense hinge on the fact that you survive the encounter. The law grants you some measure of immunity from prosecution for using force, up to and including lethal force, in the context of “self-defence.”

If Martin had been the victor, and only survivor, of the encounter that night, the police would have weighed his claim of “self defence” in the decision whether to charge him or not. Had he been indicted, his attorney could have, and surely would have, raised the SYG defense at trial. The judge and jury would have considered SYG as a mitigating circumstance in the decision to convict or acquit.

In the heat of the moment, on that rainy night in Florida, “Stand Your Ground” meant squat for Martin. While he was entirely within his rights to stand up to and confront the person tailing him, all that the Florida law confers under SYG is immunity from prosecution for using lethal force to protect yourself or another.

Stand your ground is a response to many jurisdictions’ requirement that, before you have the right to defend yourself, you have to demonstrate that you made every reasonable effort to flee the encounter, and, failing that, only then do you have the right to use force to defend yourself. Stand your ground does away with the requirement to prove that you first attempted to flee the situation, and states that you have the right to be where you are, and go where you are going, and do not have a “duty to retreat.”

It sounds like you’re asking if Martin had a right to attack Zimmerman because he felt threatened.

He’d have to prove that he was in fear of grave bodily harm. If GZ’'s body had the wounds on it that we’re seeing in the latest reports, and TM had none, that might be hard to demonstrate. If he could prove that GZ was brandishing a gun, maybe. But that would necessitate facts not in evidence today, and perhaps a different course of events.

We don’t know how the fight started. If GZ initiated it, in possession of a gun, TM might have a good chance of using the SYG defense. But he’d have to explain why GZ had several wounds and he had none.

Perhaps, but that’s only if the law provides for one to to feel sufficiently threatened that they can legally act without being prosecuted. This thread may have been better suited to general questions because I would like a factual answer, but I kind of figured that with this being a hot button topic this would end up in Great Debates anyway.

I do think that if it were the case that Martin was within his rights under the law when he acted that it should be material to the trial, but I would rather that not be the focus of this debate.

Does the law demand that you be injured before you act?

I don’t know for sure, but it requires that you are reasonably in fear of grave bodily harm. Based on the evidence available, why don’t you make your case? All you said in your OP is that you thought he could, but you didn’t say why. I was merely pointing out some of the difficulties.

GZ had a gun, which could easily tip the scales in favor of TM. But we don’t know when the gun was pulled or whether TM even knew GZ had one.

Did you not read the excerpt from the relevant Florida statuteI quoted above, wherein it states:
“A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

The law only requires that the person “reasonably believes” they are in danger of bodily harm or death.

And he has to be attacked. Did Zimmerman attack Martin?

By charging Zimmerman with second-degree murder, the special prosecutor in this case has made the presumption that it was Zimmerman who initiated the confrontation. The only people who know for certain what happened that night are Zimmerman and Martin. Zimmerman denies he attacked Martin, and Martin is not around to impugn Zimmerman’s testimony.

The response to **stw004, **however, was to cite the law stating that, no—it is not a requirement under the language of the “Stand Your Ground” law that you must have sustained an injury before you are permitted to act in self-defense. The law does not “demand that you be injured before you act.”

The responses where it is stated that Zimmerman suffered a bloody nose and bleeding lacerations to the back of his head, and Martin had no injuries other than the gunshot wound contraindicate the claim that Martin was attacked first.

But the law that is quoted above does not talk about “initiating the confrontation”. It says “A person … who is attacked”. So - did Zimmerman attack Martin?

That’s right. But the law also requires that the person who is claiming self-defense be attacked.

Wouldn’t the question hinge on exactly what constitutes being ‘attacked’? Given that firearms typically end a fight on first use (if they hit), ‘attacked’ is likely intended to include threats to attack or reasonable cause to believe someone is about to fire on you. It would make no sense to require that the attacker have actually fired first.

Therefore, by my interpretation, if Zimmerman threatened Martin in a way that reasonably caused Martin to believe his life was in danger, then he was defending himself.

He didn’t have to feel that his life was in danger, but yeah, that’s the whole point. Now, show that he did reasonably think he was in imminent threat of grave bodily harm. Use facts that we know at this point, not speculation.

So your contention is that Zimmerman pulled out a gun and pointed it at Martin. Martin then, in fear for his life, jumped on Zimmerman, pulled him to the ground, sat on him and beat him up for about 40 seconds. Only then Zimmerman decided to use the gun he was holding and shot Martin. Right?

Not really. Given the facts that we know I wouldn’t necessarily support claiming that Martin did act in self-defense. There are also many, many plausible scenarios that we cannot really determine, since we have only Zimmerman’s word on what happened, and that’s clearly too suspect to take at face value. But if Martin was in fact acting in self defense, I can see a plausible scenario (one of many, I suspect):

Zimmerman confronts Martin (although he maintains that he didn’t, the claim is, to my knowledge, unverified and seems odd enough that I am willing to believe he may indeed have done so) and questions him on what he’s doing, in a hostile manner. Feeling as though he has no reason to explain himself, Martin responds in an equally hostile manner, and turns to leave at that point. Zimmerman, still believing Martin to be a criminal, tries to prevent Martin from leaving. Maybe he grabs him in some manner, or perhaps he simply shows his gun without necessarily drawing or aiming it as an implied threat, expecting Martin to back down. Martin instead takes Zimmerman’s threat honestly and attacks him, catching him off guard, knocking him to the ground, trying to beat him into unconsciousness or death before Zimmerman can recover or retaliate. He fails, Zimmerman manages to draw his gun despite the now-awkward position, and shoot him.

Another plausible sequence of events is simply that Martin saw Zimmerman’s gun during their verbal confrontation, and since they were presumably in an agitated confrontation, that alone seems a reasonable cause to think the weapon might be used against him, therefore prompting him to attack to prevent that.

Unfortunately this is, as John Mace suggested, speculation. I know of no way to answer the question without speculation, since Zimmerman’s word on the events can’t be taken as fact, Martin can’t state his side, and we have no witnesses or much of any other evidence (that I am aware of) detailing how the confrontation may have played out. Whether I would think Martin could reasonably believe he was in danger is almost wholly determined by how the confrontation went - exactly what was said? How was it said? Was there threatening, posturing, physical contact?

But the main point I was responding to in my first post was that of having to be ‘attacked’. The law is unfortunately very unclear on precisely what constitutes an ‘attack’, so even if we knew the exact situation and had precise knowledge of the events, it might still prove difficult to determine whether an attack took place - but logic clearly suggests it must happen at some point before the physical violence begins.

In all self-defense cases, the force used must be proportional in response to the threat. If someone is yelling at you, you can’t punch them. You raised the level above what they threatened you with.

If someone punches you, you can’t shoot them (generally). There are all sorts of variables like the difference in size between the parties, the reasonable fear, etc. In this case, someone, somewhere unreasonably escalated the force to where a person was killed.

So, yes, Martin could have absolutely stood his ground and yelled at Zimmerman. If Zimmerman shoved him, he could have shoved back.

I’m not so sure about seeing a gun in a waistband as being a reasonable belief of danger. If a state is going to make the carry of a gun legal, then it certainly couldn’t turn around and hold that everyone who sees it can punch you.

It’s all very fact specific, and yes, we only have Zimmerman’s word now because Martin is dead. However, we do have the other physical evidence. But that’s the way ALL self-defense cases will play out. Something happened that made it not feasible to wait until the police arrive before deadly force was used. To solve that issue would require elimination of self-defense as a right; something which would be absurd.


My thesis in this thread is simply that, whether Martin had the right to “stand his ground” and escalate the confrontation, as the situation unfolded it was a poorly-thought-out decision.

I tried to avoid quoting vast sections of law, to keep the post tight and to-the-point, but it is not supported in the statute that an “attack” is a necessary precondition before the defendant has the presumed right to use lethal force in self-defense.

Whatever actions Martin was engaged in which Zimmerman interpreted as suspicious, and whatever verbal exchanges took place before the fatal shooting, whether there was assault by either party, or a scuffle, regardless of who initiated it—the law states that when a person “reasonably believes” they are in imminent danger of severe bodily harm or death, they will be granted “776.032Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.—[2011 Florida Statutes, Chapter 776 Justifiable Use of Force]”

When Martin was accosted by Zimmerman, if he “reasonably believed” he was in imminent danger, his right to stand his ground would be unquestioned, regardless of whether he was “attacked” or not. The law only confers ***Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action—***so, if Zimmerman elected to assault Martin, Martin fought back, and Zimmerman, the initiator of the confrontation, used lethal force against Martin, this in no way diminishes Martin’s right to stand his ground. It just does him no good, as evidenced by the fact that he’s dead now.

According to media reports of the incident, while the events were playing out, Martin was on his cell phone talking with his girlfriend. If Martin, or his girlfriend, or both, had hung up and called 9-1-1, it is possible that the dispatcher might have informed Martin that there was a unit enroute to the scene, having been summoned by the person who was trailing Martin.

As it was, the police arrived on the scene mere minutes after the fatal shooting. Anything which would have delayed the shooting would have spared Martin’s life. Rather than engaging in a brawl (according to Zimmerman Martin jumped him from behind,) if Martin had continued on his way, or even if he confronted Zimmerman face-to-face, he might still be alive. The publicly available information does not support the “intent” that Zimmerman hunted down Martin with the express intention to kill him. It seems more probable that it was Zimmerman’s purpose to keep Martin from fleeing until the police arrived, to investigate the “suspicious” person.

The Florida Statute states, in relevant part,
776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:
(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.
It should be clear from this excerpt that the precondition of “attack” is not a requirement before “…a person is justified in the use of deadly force….”

As **jtgain **pointed out, the law clearly proscribes the use of “deadly force” if a person “is justified in using force” “when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary.”

Deadly force is “justified” by a person only if “[h]e or she reasonably believes” it is necessary to prevent “imminent death or great bodily harm.”

The premise of this thread, according to stw004 in the OP, is "Did Trayvon Martin have the right to stand his own ground?"

I, and many others, believe the factual answer is an unequivocal “Yes,” with the caveat that it did not avail him much, as he was not the survivor of the confrontation. Had Martin beat Zimmerman senseless, whether or not he delivered a fatal injury to Zimmerman, his right to stand his ground should be sufficiently established. When the police arrived and surveyed the scene, they may very well have determined that Martin was within his rights to Stand His Ground, and may have declined to detain him.
“A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force…. As used in this subsection, the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.”

Seems like the law you just posted about “use of force in defense of” seems to still spin a definition of what this word “attack” really means in this situation. And I’m still not clear on how standing your ground can change the situation in your favor in situations like this.

Here’s my problem: From the recent injury photos some have mentioned here that were just released indicating that Martin did a little damage to Zimmerman, seems like common sense would be to crack Zimmerman in the face real good THEN RUN! Don’t stay too long in that situation. Somehow the SYG law seems to encourage self defense when not really necessary.

These laws so loosely define how standing your ground would be a good idea. “…reasonably believes the use of deadly force…” and “…place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and…” blah, blah, blah.

I think the various interpretations of laws like these in FL can open up all kinds of abilities for the prosecution, but from what very little we can confirm so far, I’m betting we won’t see a murder conviction. This case is only what he said, what he said, and what really happened.

I don’t know what happened but these photos might be why they didn’t go for murder 1. But these photos do not eliminate all the other evidenc we have from the 911 call to Martin’s call to his girlfriend to Zimmeran packing heat and following Martin to the fact that Zimmerman killed Martin. It doesn’t negate the fact that investigators at the scene recommened prosecution and were ignored.

Do you have a cite for that? The Florida statute simply says that “He or she (person using deadly force) reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.” It doesn’t say anything about not being able to shoot someone who is beating you.