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Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network.
To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 206-1942.

Posted On: March 22, 2012

QUESTIONS OF RACIAL PROFILING, SELF-DEFENSE AND MURDER SURROUND THE FLORIDA KILLING OF TRAYVON MARTIN

I was walking down the street yesterday, thinking about the Mattapan Massacre case and wondering if the judge was going to discharge the jury by the end of the day. Suddenly, I looked across the street and happened to notice somebody who seemed odd.

You know what I mean? The type of guy you can't really put your finger on what is “wrong”…but you just know that something is.. For example, he looked like he had headphones on and he was bobbing his head back and forth. That might have been ok…but his head was not really bobbing to any type of beat I had ever heard before.

He was dressed in clothes that might make it very difficult to identify him. He was wearing a “hoodie” sweatshirt and dark jeans. His hands were in his pockets as he walked.

The guy also looked out of place. I knew this neighborhood and it was a very affluent area. Most of the folks who live there are white. I could not tell what race this guy was…but his skin did seem darker and…like I say…he did not look “right”.

Naturally, I called the police from my cell phone. They said that they would look into it. However, I didn't see any cops around at the time and so I couldn't be sure they would get there before the guy disappeared.

The police told me not to follow him.

I followed him.

Finally, he turned to me and confronted me. He asked me why I was following him.

I asked him what he was doing here.

He repeated his question and I repeated mine.

This kid clearly had an attitude.

I tried to frighten him into submission. I shoved him a little. Not too much, but enough to show him that I meant business.

The jerk looked like he was about to strike back.

So, I shot him.

In self-defense.

He died.

You don't suppose that somebody is going to charge me with any crime do you?

What do you mean "homicide"?

Does any of the above scenario sound familiar to you? It should. It is pretty close to what took place recently in Florida.

You know the really odd part? The authorities have not figured out whether to charge the shooter with any crimes!

Attorney Sam’s Take On Unequal Justice And Self-Defense

Before rumors start…no, I did not shoot anybody. The above was basically a dramatization of the Trayvon Martin case from Florida which apparently has both federal and state law enforcement scratching their collective heads.

The purpose was to set up the question of what would happen if you or I were George Zimmerman (hereinafter, the “Shooter”). I wonder if everyone would be quite as confused.

“Well, I heard that the Shooter was part of a neighborhood watch!”

That is what I heard too. However, that has limits. What is interesting is that his phone call with the police just prior to the shooting was recorded. They told him not to follow Mr. Martin, the youth that he shot soon thereafter.

“Do you think this was a hate crime? Did he shoot him because he was black?”
While race may well have played into the Shooter’s suspicions and fears, I doubt it. As I recently discussed in the Rhode Island Cyber-Not-Really-Bullying case, it seems politically expedient to accuse someone of a hate crime.

There does not seem to be much doubt that the Shooter did not go out that night, hoping to hunt down someone he did not like. Otherwise, he likely would not have had the telephone call with the police. There is probably no reason to believe he did not think Trayvon was a potential threat. Was that based upon racial profiling? Maybe. Was the shooting out of fear and adrenalin? Probably. Did race play into that? Could be.

“Are you saying it really was self-defense?”

Well, first of all, we do not know all the facts yet. However, in the legal sense, it likely does not qualify as self-defense. While I do not know all of Florida’s criminal laws and procedures, I am willing to bet that self-defense there is not simply “anytime you are afraid…even if you caused the confrontation...depending on the race of the individual”.

It would seem to me, though, that there is a problem of unequal justice here. Many of the facts of the case are absolutely known…at least to the point that they ever are. Actually, I would say even more than they usually are. That being the case, I am wondering why everyone is confused as to what should be done.

While the specifics of the charges may not be known yet, I would think we know enough to know that there should be charges. I mean, I am willing to bet that if I did that I would be arrested…for something! Assault and battery with a dangerous weapon at least? Heck….even maybe some kind of harassment? Stalking? Bullying even?

A 17-year-old youth has been gunned down by someone, who was told by the police not to follow him, was following him, with a gun at point blank range. Said youth was unarmed. His crime? Looking suspicious (whatever that means) in the opinion of the Shooter.

I remind you that self-defense usually applies in situations where the accused has no other choice. Further, it usually has to be equal to the amount of force used, or immediately threatened, against him.

In other words, if the Shooter killed Trayvon by hitting him with a cell phone or iPod, that might have been a different story.

Maybe.

But, as it stands today....it remains a mind bending mystery for law enforcement to solve.

To read the original articles upon which this blog was based, please go to http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/20/justice/florida-teen-shooting/index.html?hpt=hp_t1 and http://www.thegrio.com/specials/trayvon-martin/trayvon-martin-death-slain-black-youth-galvanized-nation.php