Did George Zimmerman Break the Law?

Patricia J. Williams

The Nation columnist and Columbia University law professor Patricia J. Williams addresses the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case through a judicial lens rather than a political gaze. Williams argues that for all of contemporary culture's assertions of what everyone should be talking about, the ultimate conversation should surround the laws that Zimmerman did or did not break.

Here’s the relevant text of Florida Statutes Chapter 776: “A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if: … He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.” Any person who does have such reasonable apprehension is “immune from criminal prosecution and civil action.” However, this immunity is not available to one who “initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself.”

Thus framed, the issues are relatively simple: Was Zimmerman’s belief that his life was in danger a reasonable one? Was his admitted pursuit of Martin “necessary to defend himself”? And did his admitted initiation of the encounter provoke use of force by Martin? These are questions of fact, now properly before a court of law.


What makes the case exceptional is neither race nor the politics of self-defense alone but rather the complete failure to prosecute — or even investigate — before now …

Police failed to follow the most basic procedures for a homicide investigation: Zimmerman was never tested for drugs or alcohol, while Martin’s body was. After sticking him in the morgue, there was no attempt to identify Martin or to notify his family. This was not just sloppy and unprofessional; it flouted basic tenets of our jurisprudence.

Read more of Patricia J. Williams' op-ed at the Nation.

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