What's happens now that Zimmerman is charged in Trayvon Martin death?
April 11th, 2012
06:07 PM ET

What's happens now that Zimmerman is charged in Trayvon Martin death?

The special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin shooting case has announced she has filed a charge of second-degree murder against George Zimmerman.

So, what did special prosecutor Angela Corey have to do legally to get here and what will happen next?

In Session's Beth Karas and Jessica Thrill break down the steps Corey took in order to file the charges and how the case will proceed from here.

STEP 1 – Now that Zimmerman is in custody, he has a “first appearance” before a judge

* Zimmerman had his first appearance at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
* First appearance hearings have to happen within 24 hours of someone’s arrest.
* The judge read the charges, so Zimmerman is clear about the crimes he is accused of.
* The judge addressed Zimmerman’s right to counsel. Zimmerman has hired Mark O’Mara.

STEP 2 – Zimmerman’s bond

* Second-degree murder is considered a “nonbondable” offense because the maximum penalty is life in prison.
* Both sides may have already agreed on a reasonable bond.
* But if they haven’t, then Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, can ask for an “Arthur hearing” in an attempt to get bond set.

  1. If O’Mara does ask for an “Arthur Hearing,” it could happen early next week.

* At the “Arthur hearing,” the burden is on the prosecutors to show that Zimmerman should not be given bond.

  1. To meet that burden, they will have to present evidence to support no bond.
  2. If the prosecutors fail to meet the burden, the judge will look at other factors to decide whether to set bond. Those factors include Zimmerman’s ties to the community, whether he’s a flight risk and whether he’s a danger to the community.

* This hearing is the opportunity for the defense to see the prosecution’s evidence against Zimmerman. So, we could get to hear some of the evidence that has not been disclosed.

STEP 3 – Arraignment

* The arraignment will likely happen within two to three weeks of the arrest.

* Zimmerman may or may not appear in open court for his arraignment.

  1. Often the defendant will waive the appearance at the actual court hearing and his attorney can enter a written plea of not guilty on his behalf.

* Zimmerman will be arraigned and must enter a plea on the charges, most likely “not guilty” (at this stage, defendants almost never plead guilty).

  1. In fact, O’Mara has already indicated that publicly.

STEP 4 – Defense files a motion to dismiss based on “stand your ground” law

* Zimmerman is entitled to a pretrial evidentiary hearing on whether he can use the stand your ground immunity.

* The burden at that hearing is on the defense to prove by “a preponderance of the evidence” (meaning it’s more likely than not) that Zimmerman was justified in using deadly force.

  1. In Florida, an individual can use deadly force anywhere (with no duty to retreat) as long as he/she:

- is not engaged in an unlawful activity;

- is being attacked in a place he/she has a right to be; and

- reasonably believes that his/her life and safety is in danger.

* The judge decides whether Zimmerman’s actions were justified and therefore entitle him to the stand your ground immunity.

  1. If the judge finds the force was justifiable, then the charges are dismissed and Zimmerman is immune from further criminal prosecution and, possibly, civil liability.
  2. If the judge finds the force was not justifiable, then the charges against Zimmerman move forward (see steps 5 and 6 below)

* If the judge rules Zimmerman is immune, the prosecution can appeal that decision to a higher court.

STEP 5 – Pretrial

* Both the prosecution and defense could file a slew of pretrial motions in the case that deal with anything and everything from turning over documents and evidence to keeping certain evidence out at trial. It is too early to tell.

STEP 6 – Trial

* Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder.

  1. To convict someone of second-degree murder prosecutors have to prove several things beyond a reasonable doubt.

- First, that Trayvon Martin is dead.

- Second, that George Zimmerman’s criminal act caused Trayvon Martin’s death.

- Third, that Zimmerman knew his actions were reasonably certain to kill, that he committed the act with a depraved mind and the act itself was indifferent to human life.

NOTE: Prosecutors do not have to prove that Zimmerman intended to kill Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman could assert self-defense at trial, but the burden is on the prosecution to prove that it wasn’t self defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

  1. The jury will have to consider the circumstances surrounding the killing and decide whether it was second-degree murder or a justifiable use of deadly force.
  2. The jury could also look at lesser-included offenses. At some point during or after the trial, the attorneys will meet with the judge in what is called a “charging conference” to argue which legal instruction the judge will give the jurors. We will not know which lesser-included offenses will be given to the jury until then.

* It is too early to tell what lesser charges the evidence may support, but one possibility is manslaughter.

  1. To convict someone of manslaughter, prosecutors have to prove two things beyond a reasonable doubt:

- that Trayvon Martin is dead AND
- that Zimmerman’s acts caused Trayvon Martin’s death

NOTE: Manslaughter does not require that it be an intentional killing, only that the act that caused death was intentional and not justified or excusable.

  1. Zimmerman could assert self-defense at trial, but the burden is on the prosecution to prove that it wasn’t self defense beyond a reasonable doubt.
  2. The jury will have to consider the circumstances surrounding the killing and decide whether it was manslaughter or a justifiable use of deadly force.

NOTE: In the charging document, Corey alleges that Zimmerman killed Martin with a gun. That is important, because if the jury does convict Zimmerman of the lesser charge of manslaughter, using a gun increases the penalty that Zimmerman would face on a manslaughter conviction.

If convicted of second-degree murder, Zimmerman faces a sentence of 25 years to life in prison without parole.

soundoff (285 Responses)
  1. amazon kindle touch

    I'll immediately clutch your rss feed as I can not to find your email subscription hyperlink or newsletter service. Do you have any? Please allow me recognise in order that I may just subscribe. Thanks.

    April 12, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. just curious

    Trayvon who?

    April 12, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hank A.

      Now if we can just round up Obama's other "if I had a son" son's in Baltimore and get a trial for the animalistic beating and robbing of the guy in Baltimore.

      April 12, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Will

    I only wonder if this would have reached News status if the events Zimmerman say happened had occured but instead of shooting the teen, the teen had taken the gun from him and shot and killed Zimmerman. Would this even made the news? Would the teen had been arrested or gone to jail? Would he have hid and the shooter be at large because Zimmerman waited for the cops. He did not run and hide this. This is why we as a public should let the courts decide guilt. Because the story could be far different than we know and we dont have all the evidence.

    April 12, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • wouldthis

      What if Trayvon was a girl, what if she was Chinese – – Would this, would that - stop fantasizing – deal w/reality. This is a real case that the court system will handle – – no on is interested in any other fantasies.

      April 13, 2012 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
  4. No such thing as a innocent black person

    The only innocent black person is a dead one.

    April 12, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Denise O

    Its so amazing to me how I have only seen majority of whites supporting Zimmerman and spewing disgusting hate on EVERY site I have been on regarding this case.Isnt Zimmerman supposed to be 'hispanic',and somehow this case has been wrapped around "white people" hating blacks.That pretty much shows me who is looking for a reason to show their hate.Growing up I have always seen white men portrayed as rapists,child molesters,kidnappers,incestors,serial killers,animal 'lovers'...in the media,in the movies,books,EVERYWHERE.Does this make me point the finger at every white man in the world,heck no...should it?I wonder since so many seem to love riding on black people this,black people that.It would be hard for me to think so heartless and cold though,I wonder why.

    April 12, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really!!

      Denise O

      There are many forms of bigotry and one is the Black person who has a chip on their shoulder. You are lumping many stereotypes into your own form of profiling and bigotry by making generalizations about different races. Please look in the mirror.

      April 12, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • goinggoinggone

      I can understand why you would wonder about this Denise, and I am so sorry for this. I am white, over 60, and lived all over this country, including the Texas Hill Country for 9 years. I can honestly say to you that my husband and I were both absolutely shocked by many of the comments from white people about this case, and directed toward black people.. I've never heard anything so horrible in my life, and I can assure you that most white people don't feel this way about other races, including the black race.

      April 13, 2012 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
  6. jon

    Why is this such a big deal? A lot of back people die everyday. Why should this be any different?

    April 12, 2012 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • wouldthis

      Remember your comment when your son, daughter or friend is killed. You'll be begging for attention and help to find the culprit and why.

      April 13, 2012 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
  7. Un-common sense

    Would really love to know what else goes in that gated community, lot's of empty properties since the collapse. Remember that time when Forrest Gump called the po-lice on those men with flashlights in the Watergate building?

    April 13, 2012 at 5:49 am | Report abuse |
  8. Tom Clark

    Wow, I cannot believe what I am reading on here. No wonder our country is so screwed up. It is sad.

    April 13, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  9. dx2718

    Okay, so if the burden is on the prosecution to prove that it wasn't self defense, doesn't that mean that the law basically allows you to kill someone and get away with it as long as nobody can prove you weren't acting in self defense? So, as long as there are no eyewitnesses and no evidence, a known killer can go free just by saying they were acting in self defense? That seems wrong.

    April 13, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. J

    Don't know why this case is getting so much attention, an iraqi woman was beaten to death in california, after getting a note to "go back to where she came from" (i.e. a clear-er hate crime case) I don't see the NAACP marching for her justice. Race in the US is still Black and White, everyone inbetween is left behind

    April 19, 2012 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
  11. Terrie

    This story is already losing momentum.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
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