Zimmerman Verdict: Murder vs. Manslaughter?

QUESTION: What crime(s) could George Zimmerman be convicted of for killing Trayvon Martin?
ANSWER: In Florida vs. Zimmerman1, the jury could do 1 of 3 things:

  1. Acquit– Not Guilty of all charges.
  2. Convict– of either 2° Murder or Manslaughter.2
  3. Convict– of a Discretionary Lesser, i.e. 3° felony murder, assault, battery, etc.3

On April 11, 2012 via a one page charging document, Florida charged George Zimmerman with one count: Murder in the Second Degree, for the Feb. 26, 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin:
FL vs GZ: Charging Document

While Florida only specifically charged second degree murder, FLvsGZ jury has more options than simply acquitting or convicting of second degree. The six-member jury could find Zimmerman not guilty of second degree, yet still find him guilty of the mandatory lesser included offense of manslaughter, or could convict on any one of several discretionary lesser included charges.

Florida law identifies six possible murder charges; the first (first degree murder) was not charged in FLvsGZ, and the sixth (vehicular homicide) is inapplicable:

  1. First Degree murder (premeditated; capital felony) [§ 782.04(1)].
  2. Second Degree (“depraved mind” murder; 1° felony) [§ 782.04(2)].
  3. Second degree (felony murder, i.e. aggravated stalking; 1° felony) [§ §782.04(3)].
  4. Third degree (2° felony) [§ 782.04(4)].
  5. Manslaughter (“culpable negligence”; 2° felony) [§ 782.07(1)].
  6. Vehicular homicide (1°/2° felony) [§ 782.071].

According to the Florida Schedule of Lesser Included Offenses4 when an accused is charged with second degree (depraved mind) murder, the jury must also consider mandatory lesser included manslaughter, but can also consider the one additional homicide charges of third degree felony murder.5

Although the only mandatory lesser offense that must be given to the FLvsGZ jury is manslaughter, either prosecution or defense may request6 Judge to instruct the jury on any applicable discretionary lesser at the end of defense case in chief (when defense “rests”), but before closing arguments.7

In addition to possible addition of the discretionary homicide lesser of third degree felony murder, Zimmerman could also face non-homicide lessers, i.e. culpable negligence, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, battery, and/or assault.

RECAP. Barring mistrial8, there are: 3 Possible Zimmerman Verdict Outcomes:9

  1. NOT GUILTY. Acquitted of all possible charges.
  2. GUILTY. Convicted as charged, or of the mandatory lesser included:
    • Second degree (depraved mind) murder § 782.04(2) [JURY INSTRUCTION].
    • Manslaughter § 782.07(1) [JURY INSTRUCTION].
      • NOTE: Whether M-2 or MS, expect Firearms Enhancement: Possession of a Firearm and Discharge Causing Death. § 775.087(2) [JURY INSTRUCTION].
  3. GUILTY. Convicted of discretionary lesser included charges:10

So that’s what the jury could do.11 As for what the jury will do? Your guess is as good as mine…12 What is your guess? What will this jury decide? Let me know in the comments below.13

See also, References:

  1. Florida Criminal Law Penalties, via Florida Legislature.
  2. Florida Standard Jury Instructions, via Florida Supreme Court.14
  3. George Zimmerman’s 10-20-Life Problem, excellent analysis of penalties GZ faces.

775.087
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Elisabeth Epps earned her JD from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2011. She wants to be a cable news legal commentator when/if she grows up.15 Follow her, and her #ZimmermanTrial coverage: @ElisabethEpps on Twitter. [Thank you Lisa and Alisha for the conversation that inspired the research/writing of this recap.]
____________________

Footnotes:

  1. State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman: SA No. 1712F04573 18th Judicial Circuit In and For Seminole County, Florida. Hereafter FLvsGZ. []
  2. …Second Degree Murder- as explicitly charged, or Manslaughter: as presumptively charged, via Mandatory Lesser Included Offense. []
  3. …In Florida, there are two types of Lesser Included Offenses: Category I Lesser Offenses [Mandatory] and Category II Lesser Offenses [Discretionary]. []
  4. …Information retrieved Tues. 7/9/13 via Florida State Supreme Court. A disclaimer on FL website says info may not be complete nor current. []
  5. …According to the Schedule of Lesser Included Charges, the lesser second degree (non-depraved) murder is not a lesser included for second degree murder. []
  6. …and the opposing party may object. Discretionary charges are added at the Judge’s discretion, obv. []
  7. …These arguments in front of the Judge for discretionary lessers would occur outside the presence of the jury. []
  8. …Mistrial could still be triggered at any time before the verdict, up to and including potential juror misconduct during deliberations, resulting in dismissal of present case with prosecution likely to refile charges and retry GZ. []
  9. …Defense did request a judge acquittal via MJA [Motion for Judgment of Acquittal] at close of prosecution case in chief; motion denied by Judge Nelson on Fri. July 5, 2013. []
  10. …This is not an exhaustive list of Category II discretionary lesser offenses; these are the ones that seem most applicable in FLvsGZ. []
  11. …Juries are unpredictable. Anyone who tells you with certainty what this- or any other- jury will do, is either lying or delusional, or both. []
  12. …FWIW, my guess [as of Tue. 7/9/13] is that jury will acquit of depraved mind 2nd degree murder; convict of manslaughter. []
  13. …DISCLAIMER: I am not a Florida attorney. All information presented above was retrieved via my personal research. Corrections are invited, additions welcome. Please use the comment form below to advise of any needed edits. Thanks! []
  14. …Standard Jury Instructions via the Florida State Supreme Court retrieved 7/9/13; Judge Nelson may use a modified version of these instructions when she instructs the jury in FLvsGZ. []
  15. …If you have the contact: hook me up. Please and thank you. []

10 thoughts on “Zimmerman Verdict: Murder vs. Manslaughter?

  1. Why in the world would you ever want to be a cable news legal commentator. The majority of the “talking heads” are all talk with little substance. (And they don’t get paid much.)

    • Elisabeth says:

      Ha! I like the sound of my own voice and don’t know what else to do with my over-priced law degree. Is that enough? (I kid, I kid… kinda 😉 Serious note: thanks for your blog. I’d scoured the web for a recap of GZ penalty options and yours was by far the best recap I found. Many thanks.

  2. But these three words: You write brilliantly.

  3. Jayson Henry says:

    For murder 2, I underatand to convicet the jury must find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If they have a reasonable doubt that he committed murder, how can they then convict of manslaughter and what impact does GZ’s self-defense claim have on that charge. I guess I just want to know, how can you be convicted of manslaughter but not murder?

  4. Michael Donoghue says:

    This case was indeed a true tragedy. You have done an excellent job in describing the FACTS around this case. Thank you for the information. I wish you had a voice on TV rather than listening to the agenda driven talking heads who either really don’t get understand or don’t want their audience to understand the reality of this case.The case is being used as a platform for the hidden agendas of others. That is a the real travesty of justice IMHO. One question, I am assuming that since they acquitted Zimmerman that they did indeed consider the lesser charge of manslaughter but did not feel the standard for conviction was met. Is that assumption correct in your opinion?

    • Elisabeth says:

      Mike- thanks for the feedback. I so agree with you- it is hard to listen to people twist this tragedy into fodder for their agendas. So frustrating. re:

      …I am assuming that since they acquitted Zimmerman that they did indeed consider the lesser charge of manslaughter but did not feel the standard for conviction was met. Is that assumption correct in your opinion?

      At this point we don’t know. Since Manslaughter is the Mandatory included lesser, it’s not as if GZ faced two distinct charges: Count 1, Murder-2; Count 2, Manslaughter. So we can’t [yet] be sure if the jury felt:

      1. P did not prove Murder-2/Manslaughter beyond RD… OR
      2. D proved Self-Defense beyond RD (and P did not disprove)… (OR BOTH)

      We have a suggestion that the jury considered manslaughter (based on the jury question asking for a clarification on manslaughter late Saturday night), but until/unless the jury speaks- it’s anyone’s guess whether they accepted the Defense’s claim of self-defense being affirmative defense to both Murder-2 and Manslaughter, or not. I hope that makes sense- if not, let me know?

  5. […] about just what charges Zimmerman faced for killing Trayvon Martin. I wrote a brief recap “GZ: Murder vs Manslaughter?” to clarify the charges. Again an unarmed teenager in Florida has been shot to death, again […]

  6. […] to consider, the state failed to argue for manslaughter during trial or closing arguments. [Read: Zimmerman Verdict: Murder vs Manslaughter?] By entirely ignoring the lesser included charge in their presentation to the jury, the state ceded […]

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