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Orlando Defense Attorney David Hill in the News

Stand Your Ground Flawed

Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:24 a.m.

When the so-called Stand Your Ground Law was enacted, opponents warned that it would result in the deaths of innocent people.

Unfortunately, a 17-year-old has proven them right.

Trayyon Martin was walking in his father's neighborhood in Sanford last month when he was shot to death by a member of the gated community's Neighborhood Watch.

The law allows people to use deadly force if they feel threatened. The person with the gun doesn't have to try to leave the situation, but can just stand his or her ground and open fire.

George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old on patrol, was armed with a pistol.

Martin had a bag of Skittles.

The teenager was walking to his father's house from a convenience store when the confrontation occurred.

Not everything is known about what happened, but what is clear from news reports is this:

Zimmerman was on patrol in his car on a rainy evening when he spotted a black teen wearing a hoodie walking through the neighborhood.

He called 911 to report a suspicious person.

The dispatcher told him not to follow the person and not to get out of his car.

Zimmerman did both.

In the ensuing confrontation, Martin was shot dead.

Zimmerman claims he felt threatened and had no choice. His father has said his son is Hispanic and is not racist, the Associated Press reported.

"I don't think a man who exited his vehicle after the 911 dispatcher told him to stay inside the car can claim self-defense," Carl McPhail, a 28-year-old Barry University law school student, told the AP.

Had he been black, Martin's parents and other advocates have said, the shooter would have been arrested, the AP reported.

Perhaps.

But what is clear is that Zimmerman may escape state criminal charges.

Sanford police said they have no evidence to contradict his claims that he felt threatened - the only justification he needed to open fire even on a young man carrying a bag of Skittles.

Indeed, David Hill, an Orlando criminal defense lawyer interviewed by the AP, said building a case can be difficult for prosecutors if there are no witnesses to contradict the shooter's claims, as in this case.

"If there is nobody around and you pull a gun, you just say, 'Hey, I reasonably believed I was under imminent attack. Hey, sorry. Too bad. But you can't prosecute me,'" Hill, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, to the AP.

If nothing else, this tragedy should prove that the Stand Your Ground Law is fundamentally flawed.

If Zimmerman had been legally required to try to get out of this situation before firing, Martin would probably be alive today and this incident would have created a local uproar at most.

And if he had fired, he would have been arrested, charged and had to somehow establish that a kid with a bag of Skittles was a threat to him.

The law needs to be changed, to revert to the old law that required people to try to get out a situation before using deadly force - before anymore children are killed.

As for Zimmerman, the federal government is opening an investigation into the incident. The FBI and the Justice Department both plan to look into the case, presumably to see if there any civil rights violations under federal law.

That was done in the 1960s when white Southern juries routinely acquitted men accused of murdering blacks.

And apparently a state grand jury also will look into the tragedy.

Zimmerman may still not face charges, either by the state or the federal government.

But as American citizens our lives are protected by both governments, and a case like this should bring the scrutiny of both.

We still need an answer to why Zimmerman got out of that car in the first place and put himself in what he perceived was a dangerous situation - and whether such behavior rises to the level of criminal conduct.

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