There's a lot of talk about how Florida's Stand Your Ground law did not play a role in George Zimmerman's acquittal. His attorneys did not call for a hearing, as entitled under that law, but instead presented self defense as justification for his actions at trial.

But Stand Your Ground rewrote the instructions read to juries on self defense.

Dan Gelber, the Democratic candidate for Florida attorney general in 2010, has offered a succinct explanation for why Zimmerman was able to use self defense after following and shooting his neighbor's son to death: Stand Your Ground changed the rules for what a person in Florida is obligated to do in a physical altercation.

Gelber explains:

If the Trayvon Martin killing was tried prior to the Stand Your Ground law being passed, the jury would have been told that self-defense was not available to Zimmerman unless he had used every reasonable means to avoid the danger. The jury would have been told that even if they believed Zimmerman had been attacked wrongfully by Trayvon, he could not use deadly force if he could have safely retreated or run away.

Here is the actual jury instruction read to Florida juries prior to the legislature's enactment of Stand Your Ground.

"The defendant cannot justify the use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm unless he used every reasonable means within his power and consistent with his own safety to avoid the danger before resorting to that force.

"The fact that the defendant was wrongfully attacked cannot justify his use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm if by retreating he could have avoided the need to use that force."

-- Rogers Cadenhead


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