George Zimmerman and the “Great Bodily Harm” Doctrine

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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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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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