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.
* At the “Arthur hearing,” the burden is on the prosecutors to show that Zimmerman should not be given bond.
* 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.
* Zimmerman will be arraigned and must enter a plea on the charges, most likely “not guilty” (at this stage, defendants almost never plead guilty).
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.
- 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.
* 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.
- 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.
* It is too early to tell what lesser charges the evidence may support, but one possibility is manslaughter.
- 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.
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.