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Severe Charge, With A Minimum Term Of 25 Years

Publication Date: 
April 11, 2012
Source: 
The New York Times
Author: 
John Schwartz

Professor Robert Weisberg spoke with John Schwartz from The New York Times on the Trayvon Martin case and how an "imperfect self-defense" claim may be brought up in the trial.

By choosing to charge George Zimmerman with second-degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin, Angela B. Corey, the special prosecutor appointed to the case in Florida, selected the toughest possible charge involving a killing short of first-degree murder, which requires a finding of premeditation and carries the death penalty as a possible punishment. Under second-degree murder, the jury must find that a death was caused by a criminal act “demonstrating a depraved mind without regard for human life,” said Eric Abrahamsen, a criminal defense lawyer in Tallahassee, reading from the state’s standard jury instructions. The maximum sentence for second-degree murder is life in prison; the minimum penalty under these charges is 25 years. ... At trial, however, the question of self-defense can be brought up again and possibly will, said Robert Weisberg, a criminal law expert at Stanford Law School. That could lead to a fallback position for the jury — if allowed by the judge — of a lesser verdict of manslaughter should the jury decide that Mr. Zimmerman sincerely but unreasonably believed that he was appropriately using lethal force to defend himself, which is known as “imperfect self-defense.”

Either side in the case could request that the judge instruct the jury to consider that middle ground, and if the evidence supports such a finding the judge will in almost all cases comply, Professor Weisberg said. A confident prosecutor may not want to risk missing the toughest conviction, however, and a confident defense lawyer may not want to risk giving the jurors a lesser charge that they can choose instead of acquittal. And so, he said, the question may come down to, “Who’s feeling lucky?”