George Zimmerman and the "Great Bodily Harm" Doctrine

| Tue Apr. 3, 2012 12:52 PM EDT

I think David Kopel made this point over at the Volokh Conspiracy a few days ago, but today he takes to the Washington Times to argue that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law isn't really an issue in the Trayvon Martin case:

The assertion that Florida law allows shooting whenever someone believes it to be necessary is a flat-out lie. The actual law of Florida is that “a person is justified in the use of deadly force” if “(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself...."

Florida’s rule that deadly force may be used to prevent “imminent death or great bodily harm” or “the imminent commission of a forcible felony” is the norm throughout the United States.

Like the majority of American states, Florida does not mandate that victims of a violent crime attempt to retreat before they defend themselves. The retreat rule is irrelevant, regardless of whether you believe Trayvon’s advocates or Mr. Zimmerman’s advocates....Even among the more restrictive states, such as New York, retreat is not required before using deadly force in the home - to prevent a burglary, robbery, kidnapping, rape or other forcible criminal sexual attack. Thus, whether you are in Lake Placid, N.Y., or Lake Placid, Fla., and someone attempts to rob you when you are walking down the street, you have no duty to retreat before using deadly force to thwart the robbery.

I've deliberately commented sparingly on the Trayvon Martin case because the actual facts of the matter are in such turmoil. So I apologize if this question has been answered elsewhere and I just haven't seen it. 

But here's the part I've never quite gotten. Even if you accept Zimmerman's side of the story entirely, Zimmerman was an armed man tracking Martin and obviously scaring the hell out of him. In Zimmerman's account, Martin then jumped him and started beating him up. But even if this is the whole story, is that grounds to shoot someone? Just how much bodily harm do you have to reasonably expect before you're allowed to kill someone? After all, this wasn't in someone's home, and Martin wasn't trying to rob Zimmerman. He was a guy that Zimmerman was trailing. Surely "great" bodily harm has to mean more than just wrestling someone to the ground and throwing some punches, even in Florida? What does Florida law say about that?

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