Zimmerman Trial: Here’s What the Judge Instructed the Jury to Do
The Zimmerman trial concluded about an hour ago and the case is in the hands of the jury. The jury, which must presume that George Zimmerman is innocent, and which is not allowed to draw any negative inferences from the fact that Zimmerman did not take the stand in his own defense, will now deliberate (for who knows how long) and determine whether Zimmerman is guilty of second-degree murder, manslaughter, or not guilty of either crime because the killing of Trayvon Martin was either justified, excusable, or in self-defense.
If the jury finds Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder, he faces a maximum of life in prison. If they find him guilty of manslaughter, he faces a maximum thirty-year prison sentence. If the jury finds that the killing of the seventeen-year-old boy was justified, Zimmerman walks.
I transcribed as much of the jury instructions as I deemed relevant (because they were long and to transcribe them all would mean I’d still be typing tomorrow). I thought it would be helpful for you to know what the jury is tasked with. You can decide for yourselves whether the state met its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman committed second-degree murder or manslaughter, but remember that you as a reader and trial watcher have more evidence than the jury does, so keep that in mind.
The judge read the following jury instructions for second-degree murder:
To prove the crime of second degree murder, the state must prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt:
1) Trayvon Martin is dead.
2) The death was caused by the criminal act of George Zimmerman.
3) There was an unlawful killing of Trayvon Martin by an act imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind without regard for human life.
The judge then defined “act”:
An act includes a series of related actions arising from and performed pursuant to a single design or purpose.
The judge then defined “imminently dangerous”:
An act is eminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind, if it is an act or series of acts that a person of ordinary judgment would know is reasonably certain to kill or do serious bodily injury to another, and is done from ill-will, hatred, spite, or evil intent, and is of such a nature that the act itself indicates an indifference to human life.
The judge pointed out that the state didn’t have to prove that George Zimmerman intended to cause death:
In order to convict of second-degree murder, it is not necessary for the state to prove that George Zimmerman had an intent to cause death.
After reading lengthy instructions related to the commission of second-degree murder with discharge of a firearm, the judge then instructed the jury to consider manslaughter (if the jury wasn’t convinced that Zimmerman had committed second-degree murder):
In considering the evidence, you should consider the possibility that although the evidence may not convince you that George Zimmerman committed the main crime of which he is accused, there may be evidence that he committed other acts that constitute a lesser-included crime.
Therefore, if you find that the main accusation has not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, you will next need to decide if George Zimmerman is guilty of any lesser-included crime. The lesser crime indicated in the definition of second-degree murder is manslaughter.
The judge then instructed the jury on justifiable homicide –
The killing of a human being is justifiable and lawful if necessarily done while resisting an attempt to murder or commit a felony upon George Zimmerman, or to commit a felony in any dwelling house in which George Zimmerman was at the time of the attempted killing.
– and excusable homicide:
The killing of a human being is excusable and therefore lawful under any one of the following three circumstances:
1. When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune in doing any lawful act by lawful means with usual ordinary caution and without any unlawful intent, or
2. when the killing occurred by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden insufficient provocation, or
3. When the killing is committed by accident and misfortune resulting from a sudden combat, if a dangerous weapon is not used and the attempted killing is not done in a cruel and unusual manner.
The judge then defined “dangerous weapon”:
A dangerous weapon is any weapon that, taking into account the manner in which it is used, is likely to produce death or great bodily harm.
The judge then instructed the jury on the lesser-included charge of manslaughter:
To prove the crime of manslaughter, the state must prove the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
1. Trayvon Martin is dead.
2. George Zimmerman intentionally committed an act or acts that caused the death of Trayvon Martin.
The judge instructed the jury that Zimmerman can’t be guilty if the killing was merely negligent, or if it was justified or excusable:
George Zimmerman cannot be guilty of manslaughter for committing a merely negligent act, or if the killing was either justifiable or excusable homicide. Each of us has a duty to act reasonably toward others. If there is a violation of that duty without any conscious intention to harm, that violation is negligent.
As with second-degree murder, Zimmerman need not have had an intent to cause death:
In order to convict George Zimmerman of manslaughter by act, it is not necessary for the state to prove that George Zimmerman had an intent to cause death, only that he had an intent to commit an act that was not merely negligent, justified, or excusable, and which caused death.
After instructing the jury on commission of manslaughter with a firearm, the judge instructed the jury on self-defense:
It is a defense to the crime of second-degree murder and the lesser included offense of manslaughter if the death of Trayvon Martin resulted from a justifiable use of deadly force.
Deadly force means force likely to cause death or great bodily harm.
A person is justified in using deadly force if he reasonably believes that such force is justified to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself.
In deciding whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you must judge him by the circumstances by which he was surrounded at the time the force was used. The dangers facing George Zimmerman need not have been actual.
However, to justify the use of deadly force, the danger must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force.
Based upon appearances, George Zimmerman must have actually believed that the danger was real.
If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and use force with force — including deadly force — if you reasonably believe that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
The judge then instructed the jury to consider the physical capabilities of Trayvon Martin and his killer:
In considering the issue of self-defense, you may take into account the relative physical abilities and capabilities of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. In your consideration of the issue of self-defense, if you have a reasonable doubt on the question of whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you should find George Zimmerman not guilty.
The judge instructed the jury that they must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that force was not justified in order to find George Zimmerman guilty of either second-degree murder or manslaughter (if the state met its burden in proving the elements of the crime):
If, however, from the evidence, you are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman was not justified in the use of deadly force, you should find him guilty, if all the elements of the charge have been proved.
Finally, and perhaps most crucially, the judge instructed the jury on “reasonable doubt”:
A reasonable doubt is not a mere possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary, or forced doubt. Such doubt should not influence you to return a verdict of not guilty if you have an abiding conviction of guilt.
The jury is now tasked with weighing the evidence to determine which evidence is reliable and which is not. Again, it is crucial to remember that Zimmerman does not have to prove anything. He didn’t have to take the stand. It is the state’s burden to prove the elements of the crime with which Zimmerman was charged — second-degree murder — and the lesser-included crime of manslaughter.
I, for one, hope that the state met its burden.
Imani Gandy (ABL)
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