George Zimmerman’s Self Defense Jury Instructions

For more than a year, supporters of both sides have engaged in endless debate about the wisdom of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and whether George Zimmerman was lawfully defending himself against Trayvon Martin.

And since the trial is near, I have taken the opportunity to provide a model of the Self Defense Instructions that will actually be read to George Zimmerman’s jury. The model instruction is taken directly from Florida’s Standard Jury Instruction 3.6(f) “Justifiable Use of Deadly Force”.

It is my belief that if supporters for each side know how the jury will actually be instructed, the discourse will be more focused, reasoned, and constructive.

Finally, I expect the both the State and the Defense to request additional, special instructions regarding their respective theories.

For example, one of the most important issues in the trial will be whether George Zimmerman was engaging in an “unlawful” act when he either:

  1. Ignored the Non-Emergency Dispatch Operator; or
  2. Approached Trayvon Martin and spoke to him.

If I am the defense team, I request a special jury instruction that it was neither “unlawful” to ignore the Non-Emergency Dispatch Operator, nor unlawful to approach Trayvon Martin and speak with him. See Gibbs v. State, 789 So. 2d 443 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001) (Words alone do not constitute provocation.)

If I am the State, I not only vigorously oppose any such request, I request an instruction that it was unlawful to ignore the 911 operator. (I would note though, that there is no law that supports such an instruction.)

But for now, the model jury instruction.

Justifiable Use of Deadly Force

An issue in this case is whether George Zimmerman acted in self-defense. It is a defense to the offense with which George Zimmerman is charged if the death of Trayvon Martin resulted from the justifiable use of deadly force. “Deadly force” means force likely to cause death or great bodily harm.

When Deadly Force is Justified

A person is justified in using deadly force if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself.

When Deadly Force is Not Justified

The use of deadly force is not justifiable if you find George Zimmerman initially provoked the use of force against himself, by force or the threat of force, unless:

  1. The force asserted toward George Zimmerman was so great that he reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and had exhausted every reasonable means to escape the danger, other than using deadly force on Trayvon Martin; or
  2. In good faith, George Zimmerman withdrew from physical contact with Trayvon Martin and clearly indicated to Trayvon Martin that he wanted to withdraw and stop the use of deadly force, but Trayvon Martin continued or resumed the use of force.

Judging Circumstances of Deadly Force

In deciding whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you must judge him by the circumstances by which he was surrounded at the time the force was used.

The danger facing George Zimmerman need not have been actual; however, to justify the use of deadly force, the appearance of danger must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force. Based upon appearances, George Zimmerman must have actually believed that the danger was real.

No Duty to Retreat

If George Zimmerman was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

Reputation of Victim

If you find that Trayvon Martin had a reputation of being a violent and dangerous person and that his reputation was known to George Zimmerman, you may consider this fact in determining whether the actions of George Zimmerman were those of a reasonable person in dealing with an individual of that reputation.

Physical abilities

In considering the issue of self-defense, you may take into account the relative physical abilities and capacities of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.

Final Considerations

If in your consideration of the issue of self-defense you have a reasonable doubt on the question of whether George Zimmerman was justified in the use of deadly force, you should find George Zimmerman not guilty.

However, if from the evidence you are convinced that George Zimmerman was not justified in the use of deadly force, you should find him guilty if all the elements of the charge have been proved.

Author: Richard Hornsby

Orlando, Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer and DUI Attorney Richard Hornsby is Board Certified in Criminal Trial Law by the Florida Bar and represents clients throughout Central Florida in all criminal defense and DUI defense cases.

38 thoughts on “George Zimmerman’s Self Defense Jury Instructions”

  1. I have seen some youtube commentary to the effect that Zimmerman’s act of leaving his truck was unlawful, in particular an assault if he did so in response to seeing Trayvon run away. What do you make of this theory, and could the state ask for an instruction on assault?

    Your post here assumes Zimmerman presents sufficient evidence to warrant a self defense instruction from the judge. Consider that he has not yet decided whether to take the stand in his own defense. What other evidence could he provide if he chose not to take the stand? (Apologies if you’ve covered this before. I appreciate your work on this case.)

    1. It’s just that, commentary. If the state actually had evidence that George Zimmerman “assaulted” Trayvon Martin or committed any other crime for that matter, they would have charged him with such a crime as it would have made overcoming a self defense argument much easier. (Plus, Angela Corey has a reputation for charging defendants with every crime that could possible apply.) So the very fact that the State did not charge George Zimmerman with any other crime should be proof enough that there is no evidence that George Zimmerman engage in any other unlawful activity.

      1. Richard – thanks for your time & contributions on the case, it’s always appreciated.

        Sheaffer said yesterday that “if the State doesn’t prove 2nd degree murder, the Defense can request that the 2nd degree murder charge could be removed before deliberation as an option for conviction.” I assume manslaughter & self defense would be the other 2 options. Is this true, I have never heard of this.

        Of course if that is true, Judge Nelson would have to agree to do that for the Defense, thus far, it seems it might just be the usual, sit down, shut up, DENIED! I have read repeatedly the State can’t prove 2nd degree murder.

        Too, a defendant previously in Judge Nelson’s courtroom just got a NEW Trial due to Judge Nelson’s jury instructions on a self defense case. The guy had a Public Defender & an assistant that filed the appeal & won. A huge cost to the taxpayer’s of Fla., a new trial PLUS the cost of the Public Defender/Assistant at the new trial. I worry about Judge Nelson being so rigid.

        1. He is correct and I agree that there is a high likelihood that the judge will reduce the charge from Second Degree Murder to Manslaughter by Act due to a lack of evidence of depraved mind, which Second Degree Murder requires evidence of. Self Defense applies to both charges.

        2. A good appellate case to read on when a judge should reduce a Second Degree Murder charge to Manslaughter is State v. Dorsey 74 So. 3d 521 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011)

          While the jury may reasonably reject the theory of self-defense in a case involving a defendant’s impulsive overreaction to a victim’s attack, such a case warrants a conviction for manslaughter, not second degree murder. See Poole v. State, 30 So.3d 696, 698-99 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010) (where defendant stabbed the unarmed victim once after the victim had lunged at him in a confined R.V., the evidence showed an impulsive overreaction to an attack, warranting a conviction for manslaughter but not second degree murder).

    2. He is not necessarily required to testify to get a self defense instruction. See Spurgeon v. State, a recent appellate decision that reversed Judge Nelson in another self defense case.

      “The question of self-defense is one of fact, and is one for the jury to decide where the facts are disputed.” Additionally, a defendant is not required to testify at trial to receive a jury instruction on self-defense. A defendant’s statements admitted into evidence at trial may be sufficient evidence for a self-defense instruction. The cross-examination of State witnesses can also support a claim of self-defense. Finally, if a jury can reasonably infer from circumstantial evidence presented at trial that the defendant had the state of mind necessary for self-defense, then the defendant is entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense.

      1. Thank you for the cite! i’m sure it’s hard to predict, but I’d appreciate your thoughts on whether the jury in this case will need to see Zimmerman testify to acquit him, or whether you think the ancillary evidence of self defense is enough. Isn’t it true the state won’t introduce his police statements except to rebut him?

  2. I really don’t consider George as having “ignored” the dispatcher’s instructions. In a nut shell the dispatcher said “we don’t need you to follow” which George answered OK. By his own account he did not continue and there is really no proof he did. What makes you believe he “ignored” the dispatcher instructions?

    1. I would say other than his explanations of why he got out of the truck not believable, would be the fact that he ended up 45 feet south of the T, and he states the fight occurred at the T. Whitness #1, first on the scene, states George was walking to the T on the phone. Another witness who lives down by where Travon was staying said she heard them run by her place towards the T. Another witness who lives at the T, states she heard them runninig from the side of her place and around the back. Those are the three off the top of my head, there may be more that will testify that there was a chase involved that contradicts Georges story of being punched in the nose and falling back. We have yet the see what is on Georges phone which is sealed. There will also be testimony from the officer who said We have Mr. Zimmerman’s statements, we have the shell casings and we had Mr. Martin’s body. I believe George will need to take the stand to explain why the evidence, incuding medical, contradicts his statements, which can be used against him. And if he doesn’t take the stand, well lets just say…….

      This is Florida however, anything is possible as we have see in the Anthony trial. And if we throw in corrupt law inforcement and politics, and a few conspiracies….. The names may change, but the games remain the same.

      1. Witness #1 was not first on the scene. She said she saw running and “arms flailing”. Her neighbor is John (#6) , the witness who asked G & Z what was going on and called police. She did not say anything about GZ walking to the T on his phone. The other witness said she thought she saw “shadows” of someone running, not who she saw. When #1’s sister was interviewed she said she didn’t know anything about her sister seeing someone chasing someone else. [ <– Witness 1]
        None of the witnesses said they saw GZ and Trayvon running. Witness #14 saw George on the ground, alone, asking for help. He is the little boy who was walking his dog – his dog ran off and the boy ran after him; likely the shadows one of the witnesses saw. He also told police and Matt Gutman, without provocation, that the man on the ground asking for help had on a red shirt. Guttman: Serino:

      2. GZ does not state that fight happened at the T intersection. He states that is approximately where he encountered martin. Fights/Assaults are also dynamic moving evens. They don’t just stay in one place.

        I’d also like to know how trayvon being 45 feet south of the T proves Trayvon did not assault and beat Zimmerman because in the end , thats all that really matters. (I’ll give you a hint…45 feet does nothing to help the states position)

  3. 1. There was no call to a 911 operator rather to non-emergency dispatch. Dispatch are not sworn law enforcement and can’t give lawful orders. GZ said “ok” and stopped following and tried to arrange a place to meet police. “I don’t know where this kid is”

    2. There is no evidence GZ approached other than the claims of the mysterious DeeDee. She will get shredded on the stand.

    1. Good point, I will correct the 911 versus Non-Emergency Number. I agree with you on W8, but if she is allowed to testify to Trayvon Martin’s present sense impression, then there will be evidence to support GZ having approached him. With that said, it doesn’t mean jury will buy it.

      1. I can’t imagine why anyone would believe anything that witness 8 says; why, this is the young lady that supposedly heard all of this and didn’t bother to tell anyone.

      2. DCA placed specific restrictions on what Crump may be asked during deposition. My question is if the defense puts Crump on the stand as a fact witness can Nelson try to limit the scope of questioning to what the DCA granted or will the defense have a broader reign.

    2. Continue on….He then states NEN asks him if he still wants an officer. And he answers yes. Lie. He continues on with directions come thru the gate, turn left, the honda, blah, blah…..What about can you just have them call me, and I’ll let them know where i’m at?

      I would say George your starting to look suspicious, cause it’s raining, and I don’t think your the athlectic type, and I don’t think your’e going to check your mail. And what about that address George?

      1. No evidence that GZ never got the address. trayvon nearly beat the life out of him before he could provide it to anyone and I’m pretty sure any reasonable person would forget something like an address during a savage beatdown.

  4. OK, I have enjoyed reading what you think on this case and believe you are correct in your assessment.

  5. Thanks for posting this it’s very informative. I’ve been wondering about the peremptory challenges: Do they have to give any reason at all or can they just strike 10 jurors without any explanation?

  6. You should fold in the Fla case that deals with the definition of provocation. Gibbs v. State, 789 So. 2d 443 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001) (Hat tip to MJW).

    Appellant sought addition of the words “by force or threat of force” to the standard instruction, so that it would read:

    The use of force not likely to cause death or great bodily harm is not justified if you find Joelle Gibbs initially provoked the use of force against herself, by force or the threat of force.

    1. Gibbs was originally charge with second degree murder but was convicted of culpable negligence with injury by Fl 784.05″

      (2) Whoever, through culpable negligence, inflicts actual personal injury on another commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

      Detective Serino seemed to think Zimmerman guilty of something like this and cited getting out of the car and not identifying himself to Martin as neighborhood watch as negligent behavior that caused Martin’s death. I doubt the prosecution in the Zimmerman case could even make this misdemeanor charge stick.

  7. I would ask for a jury instruction clarifying the “legal status” of the NEN dispatcher and what actual legal authority a dispatcher has.

  8. I would also like to point out that the contentious witness 8 testified multiple times that it was Trayvon who approached Zimmerman and not the other way around.

  9. David,

    Here is my problem with that. Travon came from Miami Lakes, an inner city area. A skilled attorney such as O’ Mara and Hornsby could likely use similar character assassination techniques to assail the majority of kids in Miami Lakes ( particularly young males). Such character assassination, however, does not mean that these kids are potential killers.

    The elephant in the room is there is a perception that young black males are inherently dangerous, and the defense has skillfully woven that fabric into this case. The reality is, they have probably successfully tainted the jury pool.

    Race may or may not have been the motivating factor for Zimmerman shooting Travon. Without a doubt though, the subliminal alignment of Trarvon to the inner city archetype has garnered massive donations, in addition to creating the illusion that Travon could not have fought Zimmerman out of fear.

    1. wrong wrong and wrong…The defense has done much to difuse the inner city stereotype and the simple fact is trayvon has zero lawful right to be assaulting ZImmerman under the known circumstances. It has been the state and martin handlers who have been heavily pushing stereotypres.

  10. Zimmerman uses the pretense that he thought that he was being beaten to the point that he thought his injuries would result in death, and Martin told him that he was going to die tonight……. Yet Zimmerman refused to go to the hospital at least 3 times for x-rays and treatment of those life threatening injuries…. Also there are no signs that Martin went for Zimmermans gun *No DNA on holster, or gun* No wounds to Zimmermans arms or hands that would prove that Martin was trying to get his weapon*

    1. It’s hard to get past that lack of DNA evidence to support Zimmerman’s claims. I wonder if O’Mara is going to call DNA evidence “junk science” along with his magic bullet theory.

    2. You don’t have to have life threatening injuries to think your life is in danger. In fact you don’t have to be injured at all. Those screams sound like they are coming from somebody who thinks their life was in danger. And it is the prosecution’s burden to show that Zimmerman was unreasonable in thinking all he could do was shoot to save himself.

  11. It’s my understanding that O’Mara is using traditional self defense, not the SYG defense. He has stated this many times in his Pre-Trial World Media Tour. I also expect some version of the magic bullet explanation. How could Zimmerman be (supposedly) struggling, have his mouth and nose covered, be fighting for his life…..and yet, by his own interview words and actions, straighten out his arm, aim, and produce a perfectly straight kill shot. Perfectly straight. No angle. Impossible. The second magic bullet assassination. It must have taken a left hand turn on it’s own.

  12. “…one of the most important issues in the trial will be whether George Zimmerman was engaging in an “unlawful” act when he either Ignored the Non-Emergency Dispatch Operator; or
    Approached Trayvon Martin and spoke to him.”

    Being that “unlawful” is inside quotation marks what does it mean

    Second, you wrote a post on 4/21/12 entitled “Legally, Who Was the First Aggressor?” which seems to rule out Zimmerman following or asking Martin what he’s doing around the area as preventing a self-defense claim, yet I hear from some commentators that following him and/or confronting him (which I would expect means questioning his presence in the neighborhood) does rule out that claim. Could you address that?


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