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:
- Acquit– Not Guilty of all charges.
- Convict– of either 2° Murder or Manslaughter.2
- Convict– of a Discretionary Lesser, i.e. 3° felony murder, assault, battery, etc.3
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:
First Degree murder(premeditated; capital felony) [§ 782.04(1)].
- Second Degree (“depraved mind” murder; 1° felony) [§ 782.04(2)].
- Second degree (felony murder, i.e. aggravated stalking; 1° felony) [§ §782.04(3)].
- Third degree (2° felony) [§ 782.04(4)].
- Manslaughter (“culpable negligence”; 2° felony) [§ 782.07(1)].
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.
- NOT GUILTY. Acquitted of all possible charges.
- 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].
- Third degree (felony) murder § 782.04(4) [JURY INSTRUCTION].
- Culpable negligence § 784.05 [JURY INSTRUCTION].
- Aggravated battery § 784.045 [JURY INSTRUCTION].
- Aggravated assault § 784.021 [JURY INSTRUCTION].
- Battery § 784.03 [JURY INSTRUCTION].
- Assault § 784.011 [JURY INSTRUCTION].
See also, References:
- Florida Criminal Law Penalties, via Florida Legislature.
- Florida Standard Jury Instructions, via Florida Supreme Court.14
- George Zimmerman’s 10-20-Life Problem, excellent analysis of penalties GZ faces.
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.]
- …State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman: SA No. 1712F04573 18th Judicial Circuit In and For Seminole County, Florida. Hereafter FLvsGZ. [↩]
- …Second Degree Murder- as explicitly charged, or Manslaughter: as presumptively charged, via Mandatory Lesser Included Offense. [↩]
- …In Florida, there are two types of Lesser Included Offenses: Category I Lesser Offenses [Mandatory] and Category II Lesser Offenses [Discretionary]. [↩]
- …Information retrieved Tues. 7/9/13 via Florida State Supreme Court. A disclaimer on FL website says info may not be complete nor current. [↩]
- …According to the Schedule of Lesser Included Charges, the lesser second degree (non-depraved) murder is not a lesser included for second degree murder. [↩]
- …and the opposing party may object. Discretionary charges are added at the Judge’s discretion, obv. [↩]
- …These arguments in front of the Judge for discretionary lessers would occur outside the presence of the jury. [↩]
- …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. [↩]
- …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. [↩]
- …This is not an exhaustive list of Category II discretionary lesser offenses; these are the ones that seem most applicable in FLvsGZ. [↩]
- …Juries are unpredictable. Anyone who tells you with certainty what this- or any other- jury will do, is either lying or delusional, or both. [↩]
- …FWIW, my guess [as of Tue. 7/9/13] is that jury will acquit of depraved mind 2nd degree murder; convict of manslaughter. [↩]
- …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! [↩]
- …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. [↩]
- …If you have the contact: hook me up. Please and thank you. [↩]