This weekend, the Zimmerman trial’s jury of six deliberates the fate of the defendant. Oddly enough, very little attention has been given to the fact that the defense has such a big uphill struggle. Much of the trial analysis has focused on the racial component of the case; a Hispanic man shot an African American teenager. This visceral image has caused many to react as though the case is somehow a civil rights trial. This case, in terms of how it will be decided, is not so much about race, but the jury’s perception of Mr. Zimmerman using a gun in a fist fight.
The defense has argued Mr. Martin was stronger than Mr. Zimmerman, that Mr. Martin was a bigger man, that Mr. Martin had the advantage in the fight, and that Mr. Zimmerman’s fear of great bodily injury was reasonable. Those who have defended similar cases understand that this is the only plausible defense. However, most juries will not acquit based on a self-defense theory when two men involved and one is unarmed. Jurors will make exceptions to this criminal law tenant if the shooting occurs as one man invades another man’s property and will excuse a woman or child’s use of a gun against a physically superior unarmed male.
In my opinion, the defense’s biggest obstacle is that Mr. Zimmerman brought a gun to a fist fight. I didn’t follow the case closely, but I do know that winning a case on a self-defense theory when the defendant was armed with a gun and the deceased was not is difficult at best. Self-defense theories rarely prevail in cases where the defendant brings a knife to a fist fight. You can imagine the degree of difficulty is even greater when the weapon is a gun.
In my experience, self-defense theories are successful when jury members have experienced an actual fist fight. If you have been in a fight, especially a losing one, you know to what extent brawls can result in great bodily injury. Those who have never been in a fight may think that the person at a disadvantage is only risking bruises and not death or great bodily injury. Most jurors, male and female alike, can conceptualize that a knife or a gun can lead to death, or that a woman or a child would have reasonable fear of an angry and violent grown man. However, jurors without firsthand experience of a fight do not understand that a physical dispute can cause severe damage, even death. The reality is that few people, meaning jurors, have actually been in a serious fist fight as an adult. This lack of experience on the jurors’ part is why winning a case with Zimmerman’s defense is extremely difficult.
My uninformed predication of this case is that Mr. Zimmerman will be convicted. From what I know of Florida law, the potential punishments of murder or manslaughter are pretty much the same. The jury will convict because of the fact that Mr. Zimmerman was armed and Mr. Martin was not.