The coverage of the shooting case in Florida has been pretty breathless so far, and much of it has focused on the particulars of the peculiarities of the self-defense laws in Florida. George Will made an excellent comment on Sunday when he paused to note that when the media is this certain about anything, they are generally wrong. While my instinct is that George Zimmerman is at fault for the death of Trayvan Martin, only time and a full investigation will tell – any maybe not even then.
What’s for sure is that most of the legal coverage so far has been dismal. David Kopel at the Volokh Conspiracy has an epic takedown of the media’s legal coverage so far, going in depth into the Florida statute and showing that most of the discussion of “Stand your ground” is really beside the point.
…there are two competing narratives. In one narrative, Zimmerman followed Martin, attacked him, and then murdered him. Let’s call this the “M narrative.” In Zimmerman’s account, he followed Martin, caught up with him, and then left; while he was leaving, Martin attacked him, knocked him to the ground, and began slamming his head into the pavement. Let’s call this the “Z narrative.”
He goes on to show that if the M narrative is true, Zimmerman is guilty no matter what State’s laws you look at; if the “Z” narrative is true, he’s not guilty no matter what State’s laws you look at. The key point, for me at least is that:
The retreat issue would only be relevant if Martin were the aggressor, and Z had the opportunity to escape from Martin in complete safety.
In the “Z” narrative, Zimmerman was pinned to the ground while Martin attacked, so had no ability to escape – so even without Stand Your Ground, he’d have been justified in shooting (assuming his version of the facts are true).