George Zimmerman charged with 2nd degree murder for Trayvon Martin killing


Over at EBONY, I explain what the second degree murder charge in the Trayvon Martin case means and what happens next.  Yesterday, George Zimmerman was finally arrested and charged for the killing of Trayvon Martin.  Zimmerman is in custody and will have a standard bond hearing today which will be televised.  The special prosecutor Angela Corey in a poised press conference explained the charges and that her team had done a full investigation and would do their best to get a conviction on a charge which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.  Via

Zimmerman faces life in prison if convicted.  “With use of a firearm a conviction for this offense has a 25 year mandatory minimum sentence,” said Bernstein.

Angela Corey had options in terms of what she could charge George Zimmerman with including less serious charges.

Bernstein says, “The prosecutor could have gone with aggravated manslaughter: essentially a killing without malice or premeditation of someone under 18 years old.  That also carries a steep punishment or the traditional involuntary or voluntary manslaughter.”  It is also possible that lesser included offenses like manslaughter are options once the case goes to the jury.

Considering the choice to go with the more serious charge of second degree murder it is even possible that as special prosecutor Angela Corey has evidence and information about the case that the public does not know. “I wonder what is it we don’t know: is it a witness, a tape, [or] forensics?” Bernstein said.


It is important to know that there are number of proceedings that need to occur even before we get to a trial with a jury of Zimmerman’s peers.  “Long before we get to a jury is the unique pretrial hearing on the Stand Your Ground statute.  The defense will file a ‘Motion for Declaration of Immunity.’  Remember stand your grand is not merely a defense but rather that a defendant is immune from prosecution or a civil suit.  This filing interestingly when filed a judge triggers a hearing before trial in which the judge would determine there is enough evidence to get beyond immunity,” says Bernstein.

That means that a judge will ultimately make the determination if the “Stand Your Ground” law applies to this case and whether Zimmerman is immune to the murder charges as a result.  If Zimmerman and his defense were successful in this pre-trial proceeding then the case would be over and it would not move forward to a jury trial.

It cannot be overstated that the arrest is only the beginning.  It is a very important step towards seeking justice for Trayvon Martin and his family and we should let the justice system play out accordingly.

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  • Robert Johnston

    There’s a lot of silly speculation out there about this being some kind of overcharging or a difficult case to prove. Under Florida law, “the unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual” is second degree murder. In short, deliberately shooting someone–i.e. performing an act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind–without justification–i.e. unlawfully–and thereby causing that person’s death is very clearly second degree murder. The only intent that matters is the intent to shoot. If Zimmerman makes a case that the shooting was deliberate and justified then the prosecution needs to rebut this claim but also no longer needs to prove that the shooting was intentional, as the claim of justification concedes that the shooting was intentional.

    In theory Zimmerman could claim that drawing his gun was justified and that the shooting was accidental, in which case he concedes the elements of third degree murder should his justification defense not hold up, as unjustifiably drawing his gun on Martin would constitute an aggravated assault predicate for third degree felony murder.

    Given the claims Zimmerman has made there can be no justification for charging him with only manslaughter; if the shooting was justified then the defense is total, and if not he is guilty of murder.

  • lalareina

    I tweeted and blogged about this from the time I heard of it and I am happy that online activism made an impact…but really we shouldn’t have to fight so hard for simply justice.