Florida’ Stand Your Ground law would have been legally irrelevant to this determination, according to Mr. Kopel. Florida has other statutes that allow the use of force against a criminal attack, as do virtually all states. Zimmerman’s story has been that he was doing exactly that: defending against an assault by Martin. In his version of events, Martin knocked him down, then straddled him and pounded his head on the ground. He did not have an opportunity to retreat, he told police.
On the day of the shooting, Sanford police officials determined that they did not have enough evidence to the contrary to detain Zimmerman. Whether they were suspicious of his story would not have mattered. They would have had to produce hard evidence to the contrary. The “probable cause” criterion is derived from the Constitution and is meant to protect against unreasonable arrest.
“The normal rule in American law is that a police officer must have ‘probable cause’ in order to arrest someone,” writes Kopel.
This does not mean Zimmerman is innocent, of course. Since the shooting other evidence has come to light, such as the assertion by Martin’s girl friend that during a cell phone call he told her he was being followed and was trying to escape. The Sanford police could have botched their initial investigation.
According to CBS News, police interviewed six witnesses in the days following the attack. Nobody said they had seen the beginning of the altercation. None said they saw the shot that ended it.
Martin’s family has asserted that race overlies the case and that if the situation had been reversed, and a black teen had pulled the trigger, the teen would have been arrested that night.
They made this point in a brief appearance Tuesday at a forum organized by congressional Democrats on racial profiling and hate crimes.