Skip to main content

The Effects of Trayvon

Trayvon Martin

What effect has Trayvon Martin had on Florida laws? What effect did it have on the people?

As the dust surrounding the Trayvon Martin case settles, or so it seems due to the dissipation of media coverage after the July 13, 2013 not guilty verdict, I often wonder two things: First, what effect the Trayvon Martin case has had on American laws, specifically Florida? Second, what effect he has had on the average American? Many people watched the case closely or from afar: law students, attorneys, judges, and laypersons alike. I will not inundate this blog with the facts of the case, as I am sure many of us have been exposed to them in some form or another. A brief summary detailing the heart of the matter, per, for those not familiar: George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Florida, called 911 to report “a suspicious person” in the neighborhood on Sunday February 26, 2012. He was instructed not to get out of his SUV or approach the person. Zimmerman disregarded the instructions. Moments later, neighbors reported hearing gunfire. Zimmerman acknowledged that he shot Martin, a 17-year-old high school student, claiming it was in self-defense despite the fact that Martin was unarmed.

Since the verdict, Florida laws have not changed—the “Stand Your Ground Law” in particular. The “Stand Your Ground Law” provides for immunity from criminal prosecution for persons using force as permitted in statutes governing use of force in defense of a person, use of force in home protection, or use of force in defense of others. Little v. State, App. 2 Dist., 111 So.3d 214 (2013). Although George Zimmerman waived his right to a “stand your ground” pretrial immunity hearing, instead opting to go to trial with a self-defense claim, it was this exact law that prompted the reluctance of Zimmerman’s arrest by the Sanford Police. Nearly three weeks after the shooting Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee reported that Zimmerman had not been arrested because there were no grounds to disprove his story of self-defense. However, just two years prior, the “stand your ground” prosecutorial defense was invoked and denied, resulting in a woman being sentenced to twenty-years behind bars for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old African-American Florida resident, retrieved a handgun from her vehicle and discharged the weapon inside her marital home, in response to a physical altercation with her husband. Her husband called the police and Alexander was immediately arrested for firing what she says was a “warning shot” into the ceiling following the physical altercation and death threats from her husband who had a history of domestic violence. No one was injured by the stray bullets. In August 2011, a judge rejected a motion by Alexander’s attorney to grant her immunity under the “stand your ground” law stating that Alexander’s actions were “inconsistent with a person who is in genuine fear for his or her life.” Alexander was offered a plea bargain of three years in prison, but rejected the offer and the case went to trial. It took 15 minutes for the jury to deliberate and convict her. (please refer to further information on this case)

Today, over a year and a half after Trayvon Martin’s death, 26 states still have Stand Your Ground laws. These laws have been shown to raise violent crime by 8 percent, and result in the killer being acquitted in 78 percent of the cases where the victim was of color, as opposed to 56 percent of the cases where the victim was white, according to The Stand Your Ground Laws have been arguably applied in a disparate manner throughout the 26 states, Florida in particular. Nothing has changed.

In regards to the effect the Trayvon Martin case has had on the average American, the analysis is a little bit trickier. Many were heavily invested in the outcome of the case, but none like minorities. Minorities throughout the land of the Free were heavily invested in the Trayvon Martin case because many knew the case would stand for one of two propositions: either a renewal of the second class citizenship that many feel is involuntarily assigned at birth due to the color of one’s skin, or that of progression. Progression might have signified a new era of American societal views, placing a moral and unified value on the life of young African, Afro-Caribbean, African-American children and adults alike. While the case itself was not about race, the outcome was; the outcome forced many people to take a deeper look into the social implications intertwined in American law. The foundation of this case relied upon the historic perception of young African American men as violent and threatening. A jury of six women found Trayvon’s life to be inconsequential in the eyes of the law. Although, this obviously was not a choice of verdicts available to the jury, many Americas emotionally perceived Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict as a death sentence for Trayvon. An attorney from the southern part of Florida wrote, “Trayvon was tried, convicted & executed on the sidewalk of the Retreat at Twin Lakes by officer, judge & executioner Zimmerman.”

It is most unfortunate that those who could affect fundamental change of such laws were silent on the matter. However, that did not stop citizens independent of the judicial and legislative realm. Protests ensued throughout America the following day after the verdict was rendered; in California, New York City, and D.C. petitions were signed by people of every single color, but in the end no real change has come about? just yet. The effect of the Trayvon Martin case has not yet been felt, but it is my greatest hope that it has touched the hearts and mindsets of the American people, especially soon-to-be-attorneys, in a way no other matter has. It is my hope that this case is not dismissed as just another case, but serves as an anchor to reform in American civil and criminal law and to the societal value of the African American life in America.

WVU LAW Facebook WVU LAW Twitter WVU LAW Instagram WVU LAW LinkedIn WVU LAW Youtube Channel