Trayvon's Killer Should Be Prosecuted Under Federal Law
On Monday, July 15, 2013, Judge William H. “Billy” Murphy, Jr. spoke on NPR’s WYPR “Midday with Dan Rodricks” regarding the Zimmerman verdict and state “Stand Your Ground” laws. You can listen to this show on WYPR’s podcast.
Seven Things We Can Do Now
- Millions of fair-minded people of all races, including most of the black community, are outraged by the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin. If you share this outrage, you can sign this petition to United States Attorney General Eric Holder to direct the Department of Justice to prosecute Mr. Zimmerman under the federal civil rights laws, which make the unjustified intentional shooting of a fellow human being a federal crime.
- We should force repeal of “Stand Your Ground” in Florida-and the 24 other states which passed it-with repeated mass demonstrations, mass emails, texts, letters and face-to-face conversations with legislators. We should run candidates against those legislators who introduced or sponsored “Stand Your Ground” laws in those states.
- On a targeted basis, we should boycott the products we use from the major companies who finance the powerful-and secretive-American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”), which introduced “Stand Your Ground” in Florida and got it passed in 24 states (a list of those companies can be found below). Organizations which have opposed and exposed ALEC, such as the Center for Media and Democracy, ALEC Exposed, and SourceWatch stand ready to help.
- We should demonstrate against Jeb Bush, the so-called “compassionate conservative” governor of Florida, and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who both want to be president, and make them work to repeal it.
- We should work closely with the Hispanic/Latino community in all these efforts despite the fact that a Hispanic/Latino juror voted for acquittal. We should not assume either that she, George Zimmerman, or U.S. Senator Marco Rubio speaks for that community any more than they-or anyone else-should assume that either Justice Clarence Thomas or Dr. Ben Carson speak for blacks. The Hispanic/Latino community and its organizations know that “Stand Your Ground” is just as bad for them as immigrants and people of color as it is for us. Remember: Barack Obama would not have been elected president without their overwhelming support; and we should increase our support for the Dream Act, which gives them a path to citizenship.
- The American people should be taught that “Stand Your Ground” is bad for all citizens. This is not an issue which should concern only people of color. See, for example, “Florida ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law Yields Some Shocking Outcomes,” a well researched article by Kris Hundley, Susan Taylor Martin and Connie Humburg, staff writers for the Tampa Bay Times. This article is truly eye-opening. See also “‘Stand Your Ground’ Linked To Increase In Homicides” from NPR and do a Google search “impact of stand your ground” for more detailed information.
- We must work harder to increase voter registration and fight to renew the Voting Rights Act to correct its recent destruction by the five “conservative” members of the Supreme Court.
It is appropriate to be angry. But well thought-out action motivated by targeted anger is superior.
Please read the rest of this article below.
A Separate Federal Prosecution of George Zimmerman is Permitted by the U.S. Constitution
This separate and subsequent federal prosecution is permitted by the Dual Sovereignty doctrine first enunciated by the Supreme Court of the United States in Bartkus v. Illinois, 359 U.S. 121 (1959). Though the Supreme Court of the United States has recognized the dual sovereignty doctrine as an exception to double jeopardy, the United States will not exercise its dual sovereignty power against everyone to whom it applies.
As a self-imposed limitation on its dual sovereignty power, the United States Department of Justice has developed the “Dual and Successive Prosecution Policy” which “establishes guidelines for the exercise of discretion by appropriate officers of the Department of Justice in determining whether to bring a federal prosecution based on substantially the same act(s) or transactions involved in a prior state or federal proceeding.” See a general overview on Wikipedia.
Under the Dual and Successive Prosecution Policy, the feds prosecuted and convicted the California policemen who brutally beat Rodney King for the same conduct for which they were acquitted by a state court jury in Orange County, California. Under the Dual and Successive Prosecution Policy, the feds separately prosecuted Arthur Bremer even after he was convicted in a Maryland state court of shooting U.S. Democratic presidential candidate George Wallace on May 15, 1972 in Laurel, Maryland, and sentenced to 63 years in a Maryland state prison.
The Radical “Stand Your Ground” Law in Florida is to Blame
What outrages us about this acquittal is that it was permitted by a radical change in Florida law called "Stand Your Ground," which removes an individual's duty to retreat from a conflict in public even when he can safely do so. Here’s what the judge told the Trayvon Martin jury the new law meant:
“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 meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed 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.”
Prior to the enactment of these laws, Americans always had a right to "stand their ground" on their property and use lethal force against home invaders. Centuries of English and American common law have long recognized that there is no place to retreat to when cornered in one's own "castle."
The law did, however, require individuals to retreat from physical confrontations in public if they could safely do so. If you were cornered in an alley, pinned to the ground or otherwise out of options to retreat, you could defend yourself with lethal force. But if it's possible to just turn around and walk away, go home and sleep it off, and avoid escalating the conflict, the law required you to do so.
That's no longer the case in the 25 states that have enacted "Stand Your Ground" laws at the behest of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In those states, if you've had a terrible day, if you just don't like the other guy very much or if you want to try out that new handgun you just bought, you can feel free to escalate the level of violence in a physical altercation by shooting him. Even if you kill him, the law has got your back. You'll be immune not only from criminal prosecution, but also from any potential civil lawsuits.
Before this radical change in Florida law was made, almost every State in this country had required-since the Declaration of Independence in 1776-that rather than use deadly force in the first instance, a person attacked in public is required to make all reasonable and safe efforts to retreat. For example, in self-defense cases, Maryland judges tell jurors this:
In addition, before using deadly force, the defendant is required to make all reasonable effort to retreat. The defendant does not have to retreat if the defendant was in his home, retreat was unsafe, the avenue of retreat was unknown to the defendant, the defendant was being robbed, [or] the defendant was lawfully arresting the victim.
Despite our enormous respect for the jury system, there are well-known common sense reasons why jurors sometimes get it wrong. Bad prosecution presentation and tactics and better defense lawyering can cause wrongful acquittals; and here, the prosecution’s presentation of its case left much to be desired. Community prejudice manifested by the jurors themselves can also cause miscarriages of justice. Poor jury selection by the prosecution can also do the trick as can community pressure on the jurors.
But the “Stand Your Ground” instruction gave the Trayvon Martin jury all it needed to acquit.
So why did the NRA want to change the law?
According to Howard Goodman of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting:
It's no coincidence that after Florida passed its Stand Your Ground law in 2005, many other states followed suit.
The law - which greatly expanded the right to use deadly force - had been vigorously pushed by the National Rifle Association before being passed overwhelming by a deferential legislature and signed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, who called it a "commonsense" approach to making the citizenry safer.
It has not exactly worked out that way.
George Zimmerman, who shot and killed the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin on February 26, has not been arrested or charged - sparking a national outrage - largely because Sanford police believed his claim of self-defense. Under the Stand Your Ground doctrine, a shooter is justified in firing if he "reasonably believes" his life is in danger. The law scrapped the time-honored legal duty to retreat in public places.
As soon as the bill was signed into law in Florida, the NRA's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, said the pro-gun organization would use the victory to promote the law everywhere.
Within weeks, a proposed statute with almost the exact wording of the Florida law was adopted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That's a conservative organization that pushes for laws favorable to its patrons, mainly scores of U.S. corporations. One of those backers is the NRA.
ALEC's method is to hand cookie-cutter "model" bills to sympathetic state lawmakers - mostly conservative Republicans - who then sponsor them in their statehouses. They've been very effective. According to Mother Jones magazine, 23 states have followed Florida's lead in passing these laws.
The NRA has long been a high-caliber force in Florida's legislature. Between 2003 and 2010, the gun lobby gave $2.7 million to state lawmakers, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. They contributed the legal limit, $500, to Jeb Bush's 2002 gubernatorial re-election campaign, an additional $60,000 to the state's majority Republican Party - though none to Democrats.
In the vote for bill, all 22 legislators who received NRA money said "yea," writes Think Progress. But so did many others. The bill was passed by the House, 94-20. It swept the Senate, 39-0. When Bush signed it, the NRA's longtime Tallahassee lobbyist, Marion Hammer, was at his side.
The NRA is still pushing the law. On March 1, just a few days after Martin was killed, the NRA in a blog post urged Minnesota's Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, to sign a bill similar to Florida's law. Dayton vetoed the bill. In his veto letter, he cited objections from law-enforcement agencies: "They believe it will increase the dangers to them in the performance of their duties."
The NRA is also busily lobbying for measures in Iowa and Alaska.
Bush has been silent on Trayvon Martin's killing and the eruption of outrage and protest that have followed. But when he signed the bill, he said that when people faced life-threatening situations, "to have to retreat and put yourself in a very precarious position defies commonsense."
But John F. Timoney, who was then Miami's police chief, immediately called the bill unnecessary and dangerous. As reporter Abby Goodnough wrote in the New York Times:
Chief Timoney, who has successfully pushed his police officers to use less deadly force, said many people, including children, could become innocent victims. The bill could make gun owners, including drivers with road rage or drunken sports fans who get into fights leaving ball games, assume they have "total immunity," he said.
"Whether it's trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn't want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house," Chief Timoney said, "you're encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn't be used."
The chief had it right.
Read the full article from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, “NRA's Behind-the-Scenes Campaign Encouraged 'Stand Your Ground' Adoption.”
So Who is the American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”) and Why Should We Care?
Funded by the Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil, the NRA and the biggest tobacco, pharmaceutical, oil, insurance, health care, banking, telephone, auto, food, and media companies, among many others, ALEC’s basic purpose is to make it harder to hold huge corporations accountable for causing injury or death to working people.
In 2013 alone, ALEC persuaded state legislators and Congress to pass 71 new laws to make this easier. Because of ALEC and the NRA, people who are acquitted under “Stand Your Ground” laws are immune from civil suits even when they violate civil law.
ALEC members, speakers, alumni, and award winners are a "who's who" of the extreme right. ALEC has given awards to: Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George H. W. Bush, Charles and David Koch, Richard de Vos, Tommy Thompson, Gov. John Kasich, Gov. Rick Perry, Congressman Mark Foley (intern sex scandal), and Congressman Billy Tauzin. ALEC alumni include: Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Congressman Joe Wilson, (who called President Obama a "liar" during the State of the Union address), former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, former House Speaker Tom DeLay, Andrew Card, Donald Rumsfeld (1985 Chair of ALEC's Business Policy Board), Governor Scott Walker, Governor Jan Brewer, and more. Featured speakers have included: Milton Friedman, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle, George Allen, Jessie Helms, Pete Coors, Governor Mitch Daniels and more.
For a comprehensive list of the big corporations who fund, support and belong to ALEC, please see:
For more excellent information about ALEC, see Justice Denied: 71 ALEC Bills in 2013 Make It Harder to Hold Corporations Accountable for Causing Injury or Death and What Is ALEC? from ALEC Exposed.