George Zimmerman in Jail — What is Second Degree Murder?

George Zimmerman is behind bars. No word on whether he will be jumpstarting a cell block patrol.

A judge in Florida refused to send the Trayvon Martin case to a grand jury and decided that there was enough reasonable cause to allow charges to be filed and a trial held for George Zimmerman.  Zimmerman was charged with the second degree murder of Trayvon Martin.  We won’t bore you with the details of the case, as it has been reported both here and elsewhere over and over.  To be honest, Common Sense Conspiracy is mighty tired of talking about this case, but with Mr. Zimmerman now in custody and charged with murder, we feel that we must tread the topic at least once more.

George Zimmerman was in hiding outside of Florida, but once he was informed that charges had indeed been filed against him, he immediately returned to Florida and turned himself into authorities.  He is now being held in jail without bond.  The media circus continues around him.  It gets more ridiculous by the second.  For example, today, a leak from the jail showed what Zimmerman had purchased from the jail store and how much money he was allowed to have while behind bars.  No normal prisoner would face that kind of scrutiny, but this has become one of those sensational cases that will rival the O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson trials in media exposure and public interest.

The charge that was brought against Zimmerman is the highest charge that could have been brought in this situation.  First degree murder is the only thing graver, but it requires the proof of premeditation, among other things.  The prosecutor in Florida brought the highest charge against Zimmerman that they think they can prove in a court of law.  But most average people don’t murder people or know anyone that murdered someone, so there is a lot of confusion about what exactly second degree murder means.

As a strictly legal definition, second degree murder is a death that resulted from an assault.  The major difference between first and second degree murder is what happens before the crime is committed.  First degree murder is reserved for premeditated, intentional killings.  The prosecution must prove that the defendant essentially planned and intended to kill the person and went through a series of steps to prepare to do so.  Second degree murder is reserved for situations like what happened here.  The idea is that Zimmerman didn’t go out his door intending to kill Trayvon Martin, but then he did so in the situation.

A lot of the confusion surrounding second degree murder comes with the legal terminology for malice.  The second degree charge does require the prosecution to prove that Zimmerman acted with malice, but the legal definition of malice is probably different than the average layman’s.  Legally, malice is simply performing an action with the intention of causing injury or death.  At first glance, malice might seem to be a loophole for Zimmerman, but in reality, the prosecution will have little trouble proving malice in this case.  After all, when he pulled out the gun and fired, Zimmerman committed an act of “malice” in the strictly legal sense.

A lot of legal experts were surprised by the charge.  Most expected Zimmerman to be charged with manslaughter.  Manslaughter is the next step down from second degree murder.  Manslaughter is often thought of as accidental death, but in a criminal sense, it means that Zimmerman acted in a reckless way that resulted in the death of another person.  We have expressed our opinion that Zimmerman’s carrying of a gun and purporting to be on a neighborhood watch patrol is reckless in and of itself.  The prosecution would probably have had little trouble convicting Zimmerman of manslaughter, but second degree murder will be trickier.  They have to prove that Zimmerman willfully wanted to harm Martin, and even Trayvon Martin’s mother has said in interviews that she believes that the shooting was an accident.

But, in the legal world, there is always an angle to everything.  It is quite possible that the reason for the second degree murder charge is to put some heat on Zimmerman.  The idea is that if he is facing such a serious charge, with a prison term of 25 years to life possible, he may be much more likely to be willing to discuss a plea deal to a lesser charge, say manslaughter.  Then, no trial and no chance of acquittal.  Maybe the prosecutor has their sights set on bullying Zimmerman into copping a plea deal.  This practice is all too common in law, and it works out well for the prosecutor because it makes her look tough in the public eye, when she really had the lesser charge in mind all along.

So, as always, we’ve presented some information, and we want to hear your opinions?  What do you think?
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