The lawyer whose client, George Zimmerman, first made Florida’s Stand Your Ground law famous has become a potential unlikely ally in calling for at least limited reform of the law.
Mark O’Mara said he plans to propose a rule limiting when juries would be instructed on the notorious self-defense law, which allows deadly force with no duty to retreat. The law first came up in the killing of Trayvon Martin when police cited the law as a reason for not initially charging Zimmerman. After national outcry, Zimmerman was charged 44 days later, and Zimmerman’s lawyer later opted not to specifically raise the Stand Your Ground defense at trial.
But the law was included in the instructions given to the Zimmerman jury. And the comments of several jurors after their deliberations suggest the law was central to their decision to acquit Zimmerman. O’Mara seemed to agree that the law could have affected the outcome in comments to Reuters last week, and said it confused the jury.
While O’Mara didn't cite the Stand Your Ground law during trial, he nonetheless blamed Martin for Zimmerman’s shooting, saying during closing arguments that the unarmed teen “did, in fact, cause his own death.”
O’Mara said he doesn't like the implication that the Stand Your Ground law played a role in the acquittal, and argues Zimmerman didn't need it to make his self-defense case. The Stand Your Ground provision is now part of standard jury instruction language on the “justifiable use of force” and included whenever a case involves self-defense claims, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
O’Mara told Reuters that he plans to propose a rules change to the Florida bar that would give judges discretion to only instruct the jury on the Stand Your Ground law in cases where it is “relevant.” He says another recent Stand Your Ground defendant, Michael Dunn, would not have needed the law either to argue he acted in self-defense in shooting dead 17-year-old Jordan Davis. But Dunn’s lawyer cited the law in closing arguments.
As Reuters reports, changing the rules would require approval by the legislature. And that means it could have as much trouble gaining traction in Florida as moves to repeal or limit the Stand Your Ground law.