Every year, our nation’s special interests line up before our state legislatures, with emptied pockets and outstretched hands, and ask for the opportunity to show their patriotic civic duty. How do they do that? Why, by getting immunity from liability, of course.
After all, just in case they do something wrong, someday, why should they have to pay for it anyway?
And we allow this because… well, most of us don’t even know about it. And even if we did, we sure don’t have the money or power to stop it.
Such has apparently been the case in the 24 states that have now enacted “Stand Your Ground” laws. Of course, we are all now acutely aware of how this law protects aggressors from criminal liability, even when they have a gun and stalk unarmed innocent teenagers. (Jurors in the Zimmerman case were stuck with a terrible law not to mention significant law enforcement failures.) But the nation may just be catching onto the fact that this law also strips away the legal rights of victims and their families. The National Rifle Association made sure of that in Florida and NRA “pushers,” the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have ensured that every other state law does the same thing. It doesn’t mean a civil case is impossible. But winning becomes incredibly difficult and a family who brings a case and loses is forced to pay the other side’s legal fees. In other words, who’s gonna risk bringing a case like that?
Buzzfeed delved into some initial views about civil lawsuit possibilities:
“Technically, there can still be a civil case,” said Tamara Rice Lave, a professor of criminal law at the University of Miami and a former San Diego public defender. “However, ‘Stand Your Ground’ is going to preclude that.”
At the start of his trial, Zimmerman waived the right to have a judge determine he was immune from prosecution in the Martin shooting under “Stand Your Ground,” which says people can use deadly force rather than flee a situation where they feel their lives are in danger. After his acquittal, Zimmerman can rely on getting that immunity in a civil case, Lave said.…
Darren Hutchinson, a constitutional law professor at the University Of Florida, agreed that a civil case could blow up due to “Stand Your Ground,” but he was less convinced a judge is guaranteed to give Zimmerman immunity under the law.
“It’s still hard, given a acquittal, to win in a civil case,” he said. He noted that if Zimmerman doesn’t get immunity under “Stand Your Ground,” the burden of proof would be much different and give the Martin family attorneys the chance for a win.
“If they got over the procedural hurdle [of immunity], I wouldn’t say that it would be impossible,” Hutchinson said. “I still think it’s difficult, given the lack of evidence we have in the case and the main eyewitness against him [Martin] being dead.”
Many outside observers look to O.J. Simpson’s civil conviction following his criminal conviction as a map for how the Martin family should proceed. Lave said the comparison doesn’t make much sense.
“If you think about the O.J. case … no state had Stand Your Ground laws then. California doesn’t have it now, so there was nothing that prevented [the civil case] from happening,” she said. In Florida, the law is different: “Stand Your Ground” gives Zimmerman legal power to shut down a civil case before it begins, something Lave said was a virtual certainty.
Zimmerman’s lawyer Mark O'Mara has been clear about his own views, however:
"On the civil aspect, if someone believes that it's appropriate to sue George Zimmerman, then we will seek and we will get immunity in a civil hearing."
With regard to our rights to civil justice, Joni Mitchell perhaps said it best:
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone