TPM Reader DD writes in from Wisconsin. Going on the below, I’d be curious to hear from lawyers in other jurisdictions how distinct Florida law seems from how a case with a similar set of facts would have been adjudicated in their jurisdictions …
I’m a criminal defense lawyer in Wisconsin, but I’ll tell you my reaction to the Zimmerman verdict today. I’ve had friends in Florida asking for my take. I haven’t watched the trial very closely (it seems like an ordinary criminal case to me in many respects). But I was astounded that the defense would put on a “self-defense” argument without the defendant testifying. In most civilized jurisdictions, the burden is on the defense to prove, at least more likely than not, that the law breaking was done for reasons of self-defense. I couldn’t figure out how they could do this without the defendant’s testimony.
I got curious and read the jury instructions Friday night and, I was wrong. In Florida, if self-defense is even suggested, it’s the states obligation to prove it’s absence beyond a reasonable doubt(!). That’s crazy. But ‘not guilty’ was certainly a reasonable result in this case. As I told in friend in Tampa today though, if you’re ever in a heated argument with anyone, and you’re pretty sure there aren’t any witnesses, it’s always best to kill the other person. They can’t testify, you don’t have to testify, no one else has any idea what happened; how can the state ever prove beyond a doubt is wasn’t self-defense? Holy crap! What kind of system is that?
Following up on the conversation, Eugene Volokh suggests that the law of self-defense is actually the same in Florida as it is throughout the country, with the single exception of Ohio.