The national media attention created by the controversial Trayvon Martin case in Florida provides an opportunity to compare the Florida “Stand Your Ground” statute with New Jersey self-defense laws.
Florida Statute 776.012 provides that “a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if 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.” By providing an objective standard as it relates to “imminent death or great bodily harm to himself,” the Florida Statute creates significant grey area for factual interpretation in a given case. Under the “Stand Your Ground” statute there is no requirement to retreat before using force if under threat of bodily harm.
Under the “Stand Your Ground” statute, the Trayvon Martin case will likely turn on the issue of whether or not the jury believes that George Zimmerman was being physically assaulted by Trayvon Martin at the time of the shooting. The jury must believe that under those circumstances, George Zimmerman was under such threat of death or great bodily harm that a reasonable person would have been justified in using deadly force. While the necessity of the deadly force utilized by Zimmerman will be hotly debated among the attorneys and the court of public opinion, the “Stand Your Ground” statute did not require that Zimmerman retreat before using force if he was attacked by Martin. However, if the evidence provides that Zimmerman was the aggressor, he will likely have no defense under the “Stand Your Ground” statute.
Contrastingly, New Jersey does not have a version of the “Stand Your Ground” statute. Accordingly, New Jersey applies self-defense laws pursuant to the state Criminal Code. Under New Jersey’s Criminal Code 2C: 3-4, “the use of force upon or toward another person is justifiable when the actor reasonably believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion.” However, a person using self-defense cannot exceed the level of force with which the attacker has threatened the defender. Moreover, retreat is required if an actor knows that he or she can avoid the necessity of deadly force in complete safety.
Similar to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute, interpretation of New Jersey’s self-defense laws depends heavily upon the facts of the case. Unlike Florida’s law, New Jersey law is less willing to allow an individual “stand your ground” unless the circumstances necessitate confrontation. Even under such circumstances, the court will carefully consider the level of the force of the attacker in analyzing the relative force used by the victim.
If the confrontation occurred in New Jersey, the court’s decision would likely turn on the issue of whether George Zimmerman was the aggressor in the confrontation or the victim of an unwanted assault. If the facts indicate that Zimmerman was attacked by Martin, the court would consider whether Zimmerman’s life was at risk, therefore, justifying the deadly response. Regardless, the facts indicate that Martin was not carrying a weapon, which will aid the prosecution’s case moving forward. Self-defense law is fact-specific in any state and the outcome of the Trayvon Martin case will hinge on the factual interpretation of the case.
Timothy Farrow, of Dash Farrow, LLP, is an experienced criminal defense attorney and former Prosecutor who handles these offenses and crimes, misdemeanors, and traffic offense of all levels. When you need experienced, focused, and responsive legal help, call Dash Farrow, LLP at 856-235-8300 or contact us online at www.dashfarrow.com. We serve individuals and businesses throughout Burlington and Camden County and all of South Jersey.