q. Why was Zimmerman acquitted?
a. Because under the Florida law of self-defense he had a right to use deadly force. Or more accurately, because the jury had a reasonable doubt about whether the state had proved that it was not self-defense.
q. When can you use deadly force under Florida law?
a. Essentially, when you have a reasonable fear of death or substantial bodily harm.
q. But if Zimmerman believed that -- or if there was a reason to doubt the state's proof that it was not self-defense -- it was only because Zimmerman approached Martin in the first place.
a. True, if he hadn't, none of this would have happened.
q. But isn't it likely that Martin believed he was being stalked by Zimmerman, who was not in uniform and was not a police officer? And that Martin was scared? It was night, after all, and no one else was on the street.
a. It is most likely that Martin was afraid of Zimmerman and could not understand his intentions. The evidence supports that conclusion.
q. So Martin's reaction might also have been reasonable because he feared for his own phyical safety when Zimmerman follwed him for no apparent reason. If a jury had reason to believe that about Martin, then under Florida law Martin could have shot Zimmerman, if Martin had the gun.
a. Right, but the law of self-defense looks at what Zimmerman could reasonably have believed, not at what Martin could reasonably have believed. The defendant gets the benefit of reasonable doubt, not the victim.
q. That means, doesn't it, that Zimmerman created a situation that caused Martin to have a reasonable fear of his own physical safety and that Martin's response, which might also have been reasonable under the circumstances, in turn legally permitted Zimmerman to kill him. By resisting Zimmerman, who started it all, Martin created the conditions that legally justified Zimmerman''s use of deadly force. Or at least the jury came to think that was reasonably possible.
a. Right. And it doesn't even have to be true. A few states make self-defense an affirmative defense. In those states, Zimmerman would have had to prove self-defense by a preponderance of the evidence. That would have made it harder for Zimmerman to resist taking the stand. The Supreme Court has said shifting the burden of proof on self-defense to the defenant is constitutional.