The Corner

The Three Legal Keys of the Trayvon Martin Affidavit

I read with great interest the Affidavit of Probable Cause filed in the Trayvon Martin case (thanks, Robert, for linking). While the affidavit is quite brief and lacks detail, it does contain three key factual assertions, that — if proven — will vindicate those who called for Zimmerman’s arrest.

First, the affidavit clearly indicates that not only did Zimmerman follow Martin, he continued to follow Martin in spite of the dispatcher’s admonition to the contrary. The transcript seems somewhat ambiguous — initially indicating that Zimmerman followed Martin but later portions also seem to indicate that Zimmerman may have stopped, at least to continue communicating with the dispatcher. But that transcript, of course, is not the only relevant evidence on this point. There are Zimmerman’s statements to the police (which we haven’t seen), the statements from Martin’s girlfriend (which we also haven’t seen), and there is also (presumably) some degree of forensic evidence locating both the initial call and the actual scene of the shooting.

Second, the affidavit indicates that Zimmerman “confronted” Martin, but it’s agnostic on who initiated the “struggle.” Here’s the exact quote: “Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued.” If the prosecutor can prove that Zimmerman continued his pursuit to the point of initiating a confrontation with Martin, then it will be very, very difficult for Zimmerman to claim a “stand your ground” defense. In fact, Martin would be entitled to stand his ground. In other words, if the prosecutor can prove that Zimmerman pursued and confronted Martin, Zimmerman will have a challenge in proving despite those facts that Martin was the true aggressor in the “struggle” that “ensued.”

Third, the affidavit states that Martin’s mother has identified the cries for help as coming from her son. This could be the piece of evidence that seals Zimmerman’s fate. Unless he (or another witness) can clearly contradict Martin’s mother — or her testimony is sufficiently debunked on cross examination — a mother’s testimony identifying her slain son’s voice is powerful indeed. And if that was Martin calling for help, then that effectively crushes any argument that it was Zimmerman who “reasonably” feared for his life.

When an armed man shoots an unarmed man, unless there are compelling facts to the contrary, charges are expected and routine. As I’ve watched this case unfold and heard arguments pro and con, I think there’s probable cause for an arrest (and it’s really not close). Whether there’s proof sufficient for conviction will be determined when we see the state’s case. As of today, we’ve just peeked under the curtain.


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