Commentary: Don’t Stress About Zimmerman Not Being Charged with First-Degree Murder

Some people are saying that Trayvon Martin’s killer is “getting off easy” because he’s not facing first-degree murder charges. That’s not necessarily the case.

Posted: 04/10/2012 04:58 PM EDT

As the Trayvon Martin killing is drawn out ever more, the eccentricities of the case are getting stranger and stranger. Just this afternoon, lawyers for George Zimmerman publicly withdrew from his case, and yesterday, Trayvon’s killer launched a poorly put together website to raise money for his defense. The sideshow elements of the case have drawn a crowd, and now millions of Americans are waiting with bated breath for a decision from the Florida prosecutor who will be making a decision about whether to charge Zimmerman. News that the case wouldn’t be presented to a grand jury appears to give us a sense of what that prosecutor is thinking, and some people aren’t too happy about it.

 

One site ran with the headline “WHAT?!? George Zimmerman Won't Be Charged With First Degree Murder?” Indeed, the prosecutor for the case, Angela Corey, has decided to not bring the case before a grand jury at this time. An indictment from a grand jury is the only way to try someone for first-degree murder, and so people who know a bit about the law were able to deduce that Zimmerman won’t face that charge. But is he “getting off easy,” as many on Twitter seem to think? Not really.

 

Though it varies from state to state, one major caveat of first-degree murder is that the crime must be premeditated. In this case, that would mean that Zimmerman went out that night on his neighborhood patrol with the intention of killing Martin. While what happened to Martin was horrible, and while Zimmerman should probably almost certainly be charged with killing him, what Zimmerman probably didn’t do was leave his house that fateful night planning to kill a 17-year-old kid.

 

What’s more likely, and what Sanford police initially classified the case as on the night of the killing, is that we’re dealing with a manslaughter, which in Florida is defined as “the killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another, without lawful justification.” If convicted of manslaughter, Zimmerman could face up to 30 years in prison.

 

Again, none of this is to say that Zimmerman should go free for any crimes he may have committed. But it’s important to understand what legal terms mean. And Zimmerman not being charged with first-degree murder doesn’t mean that he’s “getting off.”

 

 

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