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A Question For the Armchair Lawyers

LowDown

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Come to think of it, all lawyers operate out of armchairs. Oh well...

The question is, does a person lose the right to self defense if he initiates a violent encounter?

The prosecution's tac seems to be to try to paint Z as the aggressor who started the fight between himself and M.

In other words, if in the process of melee combat one combatant gains lethal advantage over the other, and the other person fears for his or her life, is that person only allowed to respond with deadly force if he or she had not initiated the encounter in the first place?

I don't think so. As I understand it, if at some point either combatant genuinely fears that he or she is going to die at the hands of his opponent then he or she has the right to use whatever means necessary to neutralize that threat.

This means that, apropos the Z-M case, none of the stuff that people are debating -- whether it was Z or M who started it; whether Z was a racist who was profiling; whether Z slapped his girlfriend around; etc. -- is relevant. The only thing that's relevant is whether M was on top of Z beating on him and Z could have reasonably feared for his life, Z pulled out the gun but M would not relent or went for the gun.

If, on the other hand, Z pulled out a gun and M immediately stopped and/or retreated but Z shot him then Z is guilty of murder.

What say you? Does the prosecution's approach make any sense?
 

davidtaylorjr

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Come to think of it, all lawyers operate out of armchairs. Oh well...

The question is, does a person lose the right to self defense if he initiates a violent encounter?

The prosecution's tac seems to be to try to paint Z as the aggressor who started the fight between himself and M.

In other words, if in the process of melee combat one combatant gains lethal advantage over the other, and the other person fears for his or her life, is that person only allowed to respond with deadly force if he or she had not initiated the encounter in the first place?

I don't think so. As I understand it, if at some point either combatant genuinely fears that he or she is going to die at the hands of his opponent then he or she has the right to use whatever means necessary to neutralize that threat.

This means that, apropos the Z-M case, none of the stuff that people are debating -- whether it was Z or M who started it; whether Z was a racist who was profiling; whether Z slapped his girlfriend around; etc. -- is relevant. The only thing that's relevant is whether M was on top of Z beating on him and Z could have reasonably feared for his life, Z pulled out the gun but M would not relent or went for the gun.

If, on the other hand, Z pulled out a gun and M immediately stopped and/or retreated but Z shot him then Z is guilty of murder.

What say you? Does the prosecution's approach make any sense?
I personally would think that self-defense would be true in that case, however it does get muddied if he started to conflict.
 

nota bene

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I'm not an attorney and don't play one on the board, and I also purposely waited until the trial began to pay attention. But this much has been established in testimony: Zimmerman was on the bottom while Martin was on top. What does this say to an ordinary person?
 

davidtaylorjr

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I'm not an attorney and don't play one on the board, and I also purposely waited until the trial began to pay attention. But this much has been established in testimony: Zimmerman was on the bottom while Martin was on top. What does this say to an ordinary person?
Can't argue with that.
 

soccerboy22

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If you are the aggressor then you cannot claim self-defense. An aggressor is defined as one who threatens unlawfully to commit a battery upon another or who provokes a physical conflict by words or actions calculated to bring about an assault. If the initial aggressor clearly states and demonstrates a retreat and then the initial non-aggressor acts, then the initial aggressor can also use self-defense as he is no longer the initial aggressor.
 

soccerboy22

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I'm not an attorney and don't play one on the board, and I also purposely waited until the trial began to pay attention. But this much has been established in testimony: Zimmerman was on the bottom while Martin was on top. What does this say to an ordinary person?
That in a struggle Martin was winning. It doesn't say who started it.
 

Fisher

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It just depends in most states whose laws I am familiar with. The initial aggressor can become the victim and be entitled to self defense, but it is usually factual circumstances and is case law that carve those out. A scenario might be I get up in your face yelling and screaming at you and shove you without a weapon and you pull out a knife then I can probably get away with pulling out a gun and blowing you away in some places. Not in my state though under that scenario because we are a no retreat state. The only way I could legally shoot you would be if this fight took place in an alley or something where I had no chance to run away because of a wall or fence theoretically, but juries can do whatever they want, so I always say we are more of a "Hell I would have done the same thing" state.
 

Captain Adverse

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Come to think of it, all lawyers operate out of armchairs. Oh well...

The question is, does a person lose the right to self defense if he initiates a violent encounter?

The prosecution's tac seems to be to try to paint Z as the aggressor who started the fight between himself and M.

In other words, if in the process of melee combat one combatant gains lethal advantage over the other, and the other person fears for his or her life, is that person only allowed to respond with deadly force if he or she had not initiated the encounter in the first place?

I don't think so. As I understand it, if at some point either combatant genuinely fears that he or she is going to die at the hands of his opponent then he or she has the right to use whatever means necessary to neutralize that threat.

This means that, apropos the Z-M case, none of the stuff that people are debating -- whether it was Z or M who started it; whether Z was a racist who was profiling; whether Z slapped his girlfriend around; etc. -- is relevant. The only thing that's relevant is whether M was on top of Z beating on him and Z could have reasonably feared for his life, Z pulled out the gun but M would not relent or went for the gun.

If, on the other hand, Z pulled out a gun and M immediately stopped and/or retreated but Z shot him then Z is guilty of murder.

What say you? Does the prosecution's approach make any sense?
The simple answer is YES. If you initiate the incident then your OPPONENT is defending himself against your agression and it is HE who has the right to claim self-defense. (In states that have a Duty to Retreat law, if he can effectively retreat and escape you he is required to try. The problem is Florida is a state with just the opposite, they have a Stand Your Ground law which enables you to repel agression with equal or greater force without the need to try and retreat.)

If Zimmerman is found to have initiated the incident, then he can no longer claim self-defense because his victim was exercising his right under state law to "stand his ground" and defend himself. That would mean Zimmerman committed murder.
 
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ttwtt78640

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The simple answer is YES. If you initiate the incident then your OPPONENT is defending himself against your agression and it is HE who has the right to claim self-defense. (In states that have a Duty to Retreat law, if he can effectively retreat and escape you he is required to try. The problem is Florida is a state with just the opposite, they have a Stand Your Ground law which enables you to repel agression with equal or greater force without the need to try and retreat.)

If Zimmerman is found to have initiated the incident, then he can no longer claim self-defense because his victim was exercising his right under state law to "stand his ground" and defend himself. That would mean Zimmerman committed murder.
Wrong. Under Florida law (unlike Texas) even if you were the initial aggressor you retain the right to use deadly force under certain circumstances.

776.041 Use of force by aggressor.—The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.
Statutes & Constitution :View Statutes : Online Sunshine
 

Lutherf

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Come to think of it, all lawyers operate out of armchairs. Oh well...

The question is, does a person lose the right to self defense if he initiates a violent encounter?

The prosecution's tac seems to be to try to paint Z as the aggressor who started the fight between himself and M.

In other words, if in the process of melee combat one combatant gains lethal advantage over the other, and the other person fears for his or her life, is that person only allowed to respond with deadly force if he or she had not initiated the encounter in the first place?

I don't think so. As I understand it, if at some point either combatant genuinely fears that he or she is going to die at the hands of his opponent then he or she has the right to use whatever means necessary to neutralize that threat.

This means that, apropos the Z-M case, none of the stuff that people are debating -- whether it was Z or M who started it; whether Z was a racist who was profiling; whether Z slapped his girlfriend around; etc. -- is relevant. The only thing that's relevant is whether M was on top of Z beating on him and Z could have reasonably feared for his life, Z pulled out the gun but M would not relent or went for the gun.

If, on the other hand, Z pulled out a gun and M immediately stopped and/or retreated but Z shot him then Z is guilty of murder.

What say you? Does the prosecution's approach make any sense?
The charge is second degree murder. In Florida that is defined as follows:
(2) The unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual, is murder in the second degree and constitutes a felony of the first degree, punishable by imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding life or as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
To that end the state must prove that Zimmerman acted in an "imminently dangerous" manner AND that he did so with disregard for human life or a "depraved mind". I'm no attorney but it sure seems to me that unless he had his firearm out and ready before he engaged Martin, fired without ever engaging Martin or did something else which shows that his reasoning for the engagement was primarily based on race or some other characteristic then he didn't commit second degree murder.

If the state can prove that his sole reason for profiling Martin was based on race and that he had some history of race based violence then they might have a case but barring that....I just don't think so. Of course I'm not on the jury and at this point what they believe matters a whole lot more than what I believe.
 

Goshin

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Come to think of it, all lawyers operate out of armchairs. Oh well...

The question is, does a person lose the right to self defense if he initiates a violent encounter?

The prosecution's tac seems to be to try to paint Z as the aggressor who started the fight between himself and M.

In other words, if in the process of melee combat one combatant gains lethal advantage over the other, and the other person fears for his or her life, is that person only allowed to respond with deadly force if he or she had not initiated the encounter in the first place?

I don't think so. As I understand it, if at some point either combatant genuinely fears that he or she is going to die at the hands of his opponent then he or she has the right to use whatever means necessary to neutralize that threat.

This means that, apropos the Z-M case, none of the stuff that people are debating -- whether it was Z or M who started it; whether Z was a racist who was profiling; whether Z slapped his girlfriend around; etc. -- is relevant. The only thing that's relevant is whether M was on top of Z beating on him and Z could have reasonably feared for his life, Z pulled out the gun but M would not relent or went for the gun.

If, on the other hand, Z pulled out a gun and M immediately stopped and/or retreated but Z shot him then Z is guilty of murder.

What say you? Does the prosecution's approach make any sense?


Laws vary from state to state, but typically you must be without legal fault in the incident.

In other words, if you initiated the combat by committing assault, or by breaking and entering, or attempting to rob/etc, you cannot claim the self-defense exemption to murder after resorting to deadly force.

The question is whether Z committed an illegal act as the initiator of the conflict, and whether there is sufficient evidence to prove same. (Personally I doubt this can be established 'beyond reasonable doubt' unless they're something I have not yet heard about).
 

MaggieD

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Come to think of it, all lawyers operate out of armchairs. Oh well...

The question is, does a person lose the right to self defense if he initiates a violent encounter?

The prosecution's tac seems to be to try to paint Z as the aggressor who started the fight between himself and M.

In other words, if in the process of melee combat one combatant gains lethal advantage over the other, and the other person fears for his or her life, is that person only allowed to respond with deadly force if he or she had not initiated the encounter in the first place?

I don't think so. As I understand it, if at some point either combatant genuinely fears that he or she is going to die at the hands of his opponent then he or she has the right to use whatever means necessary to neutralize that threat.

This means that, apropos the Z-M case, none of the stuff that people are debating -- whether it was Z or M who started it; whether Z was a racist who was profiling; whether Z slapped his girlfriend around; etc. -- is relevant. The only thing that's relevant is whether M was on top of Z beating on him and Z could have reasonably feared for his life, Z pulled out the gun but M would not relent or went for the gun.

If, on the other hand, Z pulled out a gun and M immediately stopped and/or retreated but Z shot him then Z is guilty of murder.

What say you? Does the prosecution's approach make any sense?
After hearing from the State's Star Witness, I frankly have no idea why this man was taken to trial. The State (that'd be "us") has nothing but circumstantial crap -- and weak circumstantial at that. If this man is found guilty, I will be certain that he was railroaded, The State's Star is ludicrous. She.Knows.Nothing.
 

Goshin

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Laws vary from state to state, but typically you must be without legal fault in the incident.

In other words, if you initiated the combat by committing assault, or by breaking and entering, or attempting to rob/etc, you cannot claim the self-defense exemption to murder after resorting to deadly force.

The question is whether Z committed an illegal act as the initiator of the conflict, and whether there is sufficient evidence to prove same. (Personally I doubt this can be established 'beyond reasonable doubt' unless they're something I have not yet heard about).

Edited to add: I see above that FL law has some exemptions to this...
 

Captain Adverse

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Wrong. Under Florida law (unlike Texas) even if you were the initial aggressor you retain the right to use deadly force under certain circumstances.



Statutes & Constitution :View Statutes : Online Sunshine
Umm nope. From what I read you misunderstand the law:

776.012Use of force in defense of person.—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:
 (1)He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
 (2)Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.(defense of home).

 776.041Use of force by aggressor.—The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
 (1)Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
 (2)Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
 (a)Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
 (b)In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

If Zimmerman was the aggressor (initiator of the assault) the victim becomes the defender. Zimmerman loses the claim of self-defense UNLESS the defender responds with force which is likely to cause the original aggressor (Zimmerman) death or great bodily harm. There is no evidence the victim of Zimmermans assault was armed (right?), whereas Zimmerman was armed with a gun. 776.041(2)(a)

Zimmerman, as the aggressor was (according to this section you quoted) also OBLIGATED to try to break off the attack and make plain he was attempting to so that the original defender then becomes the assailant. There is no evidence Zimmerman tried to break off his initial attack. 776.041(2)(b)

Based upon your own citation, Zimmerman as the initial aggressor failed to try to withdraw, and was not facing imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm. Therefore, as the initial aggressor he cannot claim self-defense.
 
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Lutherf

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I may be wrong about this but since Zimmerman is the one being sued he doesn't need to prove self defense. It's the state that needs to prove second degree murder.
 

ttwtt78640

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Umm nope. From what I read you misunderstand the law:

776.012Use of force in defense of person.—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:
 (1)He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
 (2)Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.(defense of home).

 776.041Use of force by aggressor.—The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
 (1)Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
 (2)Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
 (a)Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
 (b)In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

If Zimmerman was the assailant (initiator of the assault) the victim becomes the defender. Zimmerman loses the claim of self-defense UNLESS the defender respond with force which is likely to cause the original assailant (Zimmerman) death or great bodily harm. There is no evidence the victim of Zimmermans assault was armed (right?), whereas Zimmerman was armed with a gun. 776.041(2)(a)

Zimmerman, as the aggressor was (according to this section you quoted) also OBLIGATED to try to break off the attack and make plain he was attempting to so that the original defender then becomes the assailant. There is no evidence Zimmerman tried to break off his initial attack. 776.041(2)(b)

Based upon your own citation, Zimmerman as the initial aggressor failed to try to withdraw, and was not facing imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm. Therefore, as the initial aggressor he cannot claim self-defense.

Besides mistaking presense of the word or in that section of the law you make two assumptions not (yet) supported by evidence.

1) That GZ was ever the aggressor since TM suffered no injury prior to the gunshot. The only testimony that TM was "in trouble" was the doubtful testimony of a friend that said that she heard TM get bumped say "get off me" over the telephone.

2) That GZ was ever seen to throw any blows, GZ had definitely suffered a broken nose (and other injuries). GZ was seen pinned to the ground under TM and possibly calling for help.
 
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CanadaJohn

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Come to think of it, all lawyers operate out of armchairs. Oh well...

The question is, does a person lose the right to self defense if he initiates a violent encounter?

The prosecution's tac seems to be to try to paint Z as the aggressor who started the fight between himself and M.

In other words, if in the process of melee combat one combatant gains lethal advantage over the other, and the other person fears for his or her life, is that person only allowed to respond with deadly force if he or she had not initiated the encounter in the first place?

I don't think so. As I understand it, if at some point either combatant genuinely fears that he or she is going to die at the hands of his opponent then he or she has the right to use whatever means necessary to neutralize that threat.

This means that, apropos the Z-M case, none of the stuff that people are debating -- whether it was Z or M who started it; whether Z was a racist who was profiling; whether Z slapped his girlfriend around; etc. -- is relevant. The only thing that's relevant is whether M was on top of Z beating on him and Z could have reasonably feared for his life, Z pulled out the gun but M would not relent or went for the gun.

If, on the other hand, Z pulled out a gun and M immediately stopped and/or retreated but Z shot him then Z is guilty of murder.

What say you? Does the prosecution's approach make any sense?
As a resident armchair lawyer north of the border, I can give you the Canadian perspective which may or may not match some states, perhaps not Florida, but it's a consistent theme here in Canada - if a person is able to extricate themselves from a dangerous situation, without resorting to violent measures, that person has an obligation under the law to do so - initiation of violence is not seen as self-defense. If you pick a fight with someone and you're losing, you cannot shoot the guy and expect to have a self-defense plea hold water. That may, in the Zimmerman case, be why the notion that he was told not to follow Martin is a key element - had he not followed Martin, he would not have been in personal danger and Martin would not have been killed.
 

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I may be wrong about this but since Zimmerman is the one being sued he doesn't need to prove self defense. It's the state that needs to prove second degree murder.
Well if he said he is not guilty because of self-defense then he needs to show that he meets the elements of self-defense, but I don't know how he pled. Like how defendants when they plead not guilty because of mental defect, they have to show they were under the mental defect.
 

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Well if he said he is not guilty because of self-defense then he needs to show that he meets the elements of self-defense, but I don't know how he pled. Like how defendants when they plead not guilty because of mental defect, they have to show they were under the mental defect.
He would have plead "not guilty". He's the one being charged so the only thing he has to do is prove that he's not guilty of the particular charge. That's where that whole "presumption of innocence" comes in. It's kind of like if you get busted for DUI. You don't have to prove you weren't drunk, the prosecution needs to prove you were.
 

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I may be wrong about this but since Zimmerman is the one being sued he doesn't need to prove self defense. It's the state that needs to prove second degree murder.
This is not a lawsuit, but a criminal trial, correct? He has been charged with some level of homicide. He is attempting to claim it was justifiable homicide by claiming he was acting in self-defense, which would effectively end the trial in his favor. The prosecution is claiming that he was not acting in self-defense but rather caused the incident which led to his murder of the victim.
 

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This is not a lawsuit, but a criminal trial, correct? He has been charged with some level of homicide. He is attempting to claim it was justifiable homicide by claiming he was acting in self-defense, which would effectively end the trial in his favor. The prosecution is claiming that he was not acting in self-defense but rather caused the incident which led to his murder of the victim.
It is a criminal trial. The state has charged him with second degree murder. It is now their responsibility to prove that charge. Zimmerman is under no obligation to prove anything.
 

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Come to think of it, all lawyers operate out of armchairs. Oh well...

The question is, does a person lose the right to self defense if he initiates a violent encounter?
The answer to that is an absolute "no"... Read the law and it's very clear.
 

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Besides mistaking presense of the word or in that section of the law you make two assumptions not (yet) supported by evidence.

1) That GZ was ever the aggressor since TM suffered no injury prior to the gunshot. The only testimony that TM was "in trouble" was the doubtful testimony of a friend that said that she heard TM get bumped say "get off me" over the telephone.

2) That GZ was ever seen to throw any blows, GZ had definitely suffered a broken nose (and other injuries). GZ was seen pinned to the ground under TM and possibly calling for help.
Well, I don't know where you studied law, but my understanding is if one person has a gun, and the other person does not, then the person without the gun is facing imminent death or serious bodily harm, while the person with the gun...is not.

Point two: If the person with the GUN (who is NOT a police officer) approaches a person without a gun, that unarmed person having a reasonable presumption of imminent death or serious bodily harm has a right to act in his own self-defense.

Point three: If the intial aggressor (the guy with the GUN) fails to announce his intention to retreat, and fails to try to retreat once the person without the gun starts to defend himself, he loses the right to claim self-defense.

Point four: If the initial aggressor (the guy with the GUN) then shoots and kills the the guy without the gun, then he is correctly answerable to a charge of homicide without the right to claim self-defense.

This is all in conformance with the quoted law. Where are you confused by my answer?
 

Aderleth

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It just depends in most states whose laws I am familiar with. The initial aggressor can become the victim and be entitled to self defense, but it is usually factual circumstances and is case law that carve those out. A scenario might be I get up in your face yelling and screaming at you and shove you without a weapon and you pull out a knife then I can probably get away with pulling out a gun and blowing you away in some places. Not in my state though under that scenario because we are a no retreat state. The only way I could legally shoot you would be if this fight took place in an alley or something where I had no chance to run away because of a wall or fence theoretically, but juries can do whatever they want, so I always say we are more of a "Hell I would have done the same thing" state.
This is pretty accurate. ^^^^

Generally speaking if you start as the aggressor, you can't "defend" yourself unless either the other party raises the stakes (e.g. turning a fistfight into a knifefight) or you've capitulated, and the other guy continues to come after you (at which point he's the aggressor). Details vary by jurisdiction.
 

Captain Adverse

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It is a criminal trial. The state has charged him with second degree murder. It is now their responsibility to prove that charge. Zimmerman is under no obligation to prove anything.
Normally you would be correct. But he is claiming he acted in self-defense, which would excuse him from facing charges. He must show that is the case in order to have the charges dismissed.
 
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