Self-defense ruling sought in Trayvon Martin case
MIAMI — A man charged with the murder of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin will seek a judge’s ruling on his claim to have acted in self defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, his lawyer said Thursday.
Mark O’Mara said that if, after a hearing, the judge decides neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman had acted within the controversial state law, the case against his client would be dismissed.
“Now that the state has released the majority of their discovery, the defense asserts that there is clear support for a strong claim of self-defense,” O’Mara said in a statement posted on his website.
“Consistent with this claim of self-defense, there will be a ‘Stand Your Ground’ hearing,” he said.
Zimmerman, 28, was charged with second degree murder for shooting Martin, 17, to death February 26 after an encounter in a gated community in the central Florida town of Sanford.
The case has aroused intense controversy because police initially refused to charge Zimmerman in the killing on the basis of the “Stand Your Ground” law.
In Florida, the 2005 law permits the use of deadly force in self-defense in a public place if a person reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.
Opponents say the law encourages individuals to shoot first and ask questions later, and it has accentuated concerns of civil rights advocates about the impact of racial profiling in the United States.
“The primary focus of a Stand Your Ground hearing is whether George Zimmerman reasonably believed that his use of his weapon was necessary to prevent great bodily harm to himself at the hands of Trayvon Martin,” O’Mara said.
O’Mara likened the hearing to a “mini-trial,” with most of the arguments, witnesses, experts and evidence that a defense would present at trial being set before the judge.
Unlike a trial, however, the burden would be on the defendant to show he acted within the law.
“If the court rules in favor of the defendant in a Stand Your Ground hearing, not only are criminal charges dismissed, the defendant is also immune from civil actions related to the shooting,” O’Mara said.
It was unclear when such a hearing might be held. The next pre-trial hearing is not scheduled until October 3.
Meanwhile, Zimmerman is in the Seminole County jail awaiting trial.