George Zimmerman’s 10-20-Life Problem

To many people, there is no middle ground: George Zimmerman will either be convicted of Second Degree Murder or he will be found Not Guilty.

But the reality is much more complex, because the jury will have a number of Lesser Included Offenses to choose from.

And because of these numerous options, it is not uncommon for a jury to exercise what is known as their “pardon” or “nullification” power and return a compromise verdict that they believe is just under the circumstances. See generally Haygood v. State, 109 So. 3d 735 (Fla. 2013).

Lesser Included Offenses

In Florida, there are two types of Lesser Included Offenses:

  1. Category One Lesser Offenses (Mandatory Lessers); and
  2. Category Two Lesser Offenses (Discretionary Lessers).

While mandatory lesser offenses must be given, discretionary lesser offenses are only required if the Information alleges the essential elements of the offenses and one of the parties requests the lesser offense. See Herrington v. State, 538 So. 2d 850 (Fla. 1989).

Based on the schedule of applicable lesser offenses found in the Standard Jury Instructions for Second Degree Murder and the language found with the formal charging document filed against George Zimmerman, the likely lesser offenses applicable to George Zimmerman are:

  • Manslaughter;
  • Third Degree Felony Murder;
  • Aggravated Battery;
  • Aggravated Assault;
  • Felony Battery;
  • Culpable Negligence (Argument can be made not applicable);
  • Battery; and
  • Assault.

However, this equation is complicated by Florida’s 10-20-Life law (Florida Statute 775.087).

10-20-Life

Florida’s 10-20-Life law imposes enhanced penalties for crimes that involve a firearm.

The law has two primary enhancements:

  1. Any felony in which a firearm is used is reclassified as follows:
    1. In the case of a felony of the first degree, to a life felony;
    2. In the case of a felony of the second degree, to a felony of the first degree; and
    3. In the case of a felony of the third degree, to a felony of the second degree.
  2. For “enumerated” felonies, a Mandatory-Minimum Prison Sentences must be served (day-for-day, no gain time) if the following apply:
    1. Possession of Firearm during commission of the enumerated felony (10 year minimum prison sentence);
    2. Discharge of Firearm during commission of the enumerated felony (20 year minimum prison sentence); and
    3. Discharge of Firearm causes death or great bodily harm during commission of the enumerated felony (25 year minimum prison sentence and maximum sentence of life imprisonment).

The applicability of 10-20-Life enhancements are determined by a jury through special jury findings, which they return along with their primary verdict.

The special finding is that the defendant either:

  1. Possessed a firearm in the commission of the felony;
  2. Discharged a firearm in the commission of the felony; or
  3. Caused death or great bodily harm with a firearm in the commission of the felony.

With this as a backdrop, we can discuss the applicable penalties that would apply to each of the offenses the jury will have to choose from. (And no, the jury is not informed of the applicable penalties for each offense.)

Second Degree Murder

Second Degree Murder is classified as a First Degree Felony. Under Florida’s sentencing guidelines, and absent mitigating circumstances, a judge is required to impose a minimum sentence of 16¾ years in prison, but can impose any additional combination of the following penalties:

  • Up to Life in prison.
  • Up to Life on probation.
  • Up to $10,000 in fines.

10-20-Life Firearm Enhancement

If the jury finds that a firearm was used, Second Degree Murder is reclassified to a Life Felony (although maximum penalty does not change).

However, if the jury finds that a firearm was used to kill Trayvon Martin, the judge would be required to impose a 25 year mandatory-minimum prison sentence and could sentence him up to life in prison.

If the jury found that he discharged a firearm, a 20 year mandatory-minimum sentence must be imposed.

If the jury found that he possessed a firearm, a 10 year mandatory-minimum sentence must be imposed regardless of any mitigating circumstances the judge might find (Not that Judge Nelson would find any.)

Manslaughter

Manslaughter is classified as a Second Degree Felony. Under Florida’s sentencing guidelines, and absent mitigating circumstances, a judge is required to impose a minimum sentence of 9¼ years in prison and can impose any additional combination of the following penalties:

  • Up to 15 years in prison.
  • Up to 15 years of probation.
  • Up to $10,000 in fines.

10-20-Life Firearm Enhancement

If the jury finds that a firearm was used, Manslaughter is reclassified to a First Degree Felony, which increases the maximum sentence up to 30 years in prison or 30 years of probation.

Interestingly, because Manslaughter is not an enumerated felony under the 10-20-Life statute, a judge is not required to impose any mandatory-minimum sentence.

In a minute I will literally blow your mind, because there are offenses that are “lesser” than Manslaughter, but because they are enumerated offenses, they “expose” George Zimmerman to the 25 year mandatory-minimum sentence.

Third Degree Felony Murder

Third Degree Murder is classified as a Second Degree Felony. Under Florida’s sentencing guidelines, and absent mitigating circumstances, a judge is required to impose a minimum sentence of 10? years in prison, but can impose any additional combination of the following penalties:

  • Up to 15 years in prison.
  • Up to 15 years of probation.
  • Up to $10,000 in fines.

10-20-Life Firearm Enhancement

If the jury finds that a firearm was used, Third Degree Murder is reclassified to a First Degree Felony, which increases the maximum sentence to 30 years in prison or 30 years of probation.

However, because Murder is an enumerated felony, if the jury finds that the firearm was used to kill Trayvon Martin, the judge would be required to impose a 25 year minimum-mandatory prison sentence and could sentence him to life in prison (notwithstanding the 30 year maximum sentence).

If the jury only found that he possessed or discharged the firearm, then the respective 10 or 20 year mandatory-minimum sentence must be imposed.

Aggravated Battery

Aggravated Battery is classified as a Second Degree Felony. Under Florida’s sentencing guidelines, and absent mitigating circumstances, a judge is required to impose a minimum sentence of 21 months in prison, but can impose any additional combination of the following penalties:

  • Up to 15 years in prison.
  • Up to 15 years of probation.
  • Up to $10,000 in fines.

10-20-Life Firearm Enhancement

If the jury finds that a firearm was used, Aggravated Battery is reclassified to a First Degree Felony, which increases the maximum sentence to 30 years in prison or 30 years of probation.

However, because Aggravated Battery is an enumerated felony, if the jury finds that a firearm was used to kill Trayvon Martin, the judge would be required to impose a 25 year minimum-mandatory prison sentence and could sentence him to life in prison if she so decided.

If the jury only found that he possessed or discharged the firearm, then the respective 10 or 20 year mandatory-minimum sentence must be imposed.

Aggravated Assault

Aggravated Assault is classified as a Third Degree Felony. Under Florida’s sentencing guidelines, and absent mitigating circumstances, a judge can impose any combination of the following penalties:

  • Up to 5 years in prison.
  • Up to 5 years of probation.
  • Up to $5,000 in fines.

10-20-Life Firearm Enhancement

If the jury finds that a firearm was used, Aggravated Battery is reclassified to a Second Degree Felony, which increases the maximum sentence to 15 years in prison or 15 years of probation.

However, because Aggravated Assault is an enumerated felony, if the jury finds that the firearm was used to kill Trayvon Martin, the judge would be required to impose a 25 year minimum-mandatory prison sentence and could sentence him to life in prison.

If the jury found the firearm was discharged, the respective 20 year mandatory-minimum sentence must be imposed.

If the jury found he possessed the firearm, a 3 year mandatory-minimum sentence applies. (This is a specific exception from the 10-20-Life schedule.)

Culpable Negligence, Battery, and Assault

Culpable Negligence, Battery, and Assault are either First or Second Degree misdemeanors.

A First Degree Misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum of 1 year jail, 1 year probation, and/or $1,000 fine.

A Second Degree Misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum of 60 days jail, six months probation, and/or $500 fine.

10-20-Life Firearm Enhancement

The 10-20-Life law does not apply to misdemeanors. As a result, no reclassification or mandatory-minimum sentences are applicable.

Not Guilty or Bust

It is entirely possible the jury could convict him of a lesser offense and not find he possessed, discharged, or caused death with a firearm. In such case the mandatory-minimum would not apply.

Realistically though, George Zimmerman must hope he is acquitted out right. Because absent a Manslaughter conviction, Judge Nelson would be statutorily required to impose the 25 year mandatory-minimum prison sentence under Florida’s 10-20-Life for any felony but Manslaughter or Felony Battery.

Comments

30 thoughts on “George Zimmerman’s 10-20-Life Problem

  1. Seriously how many people have been n Geroge situation,rmember Reginald Denny? He can baely function The idea that yur on the ground getting your face beat in and your going to rationally work out the amount of force needed to apply is ridiculous. your not in a position to show the gun unless you draw it and the guy is right on top of you.
    Showing a gun is a felony in Florida,and then there is the getting shot yurself with it.Who knows what the jury will do. If they have half a brain not guilty.
    the prosecution can not prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Zimmerman did not fear for his life or great bodily harm. They also can not prove Zimmerman assaulted Martin and following someone is not a crime anywhere. You have to get a court order to even prove stalking and and get a restraint order.

    • Admittedly i am having a hard time to feel any type of sympathy for George Zimmerman, but the part of the law you allude to has puzzled me too. Seems it tries to prevent people can threaten others with arms.

      I have asked myself if the part of law, that didn’t allow George Zimmerman to simply threaten him with his gun could in fact have been partly responsible for his life.

      On the other hand, with the little abrasions in mind, if you allow me.

      Hadn’t it effectively stopped Martin if he only shot into his arm or leg or wherever? Remember he told the officers he made sure he wouldn’t shoot into his own other arm or hand before he aimed and shot. Now why would he want him to be dead, if he Zimmerman did nothing wrong?

  2. GZ Guilt Theorem: Everything happens as outlined in the evidence up to the point in the non emergency call where George says “shit, he’s running”. Then George jogs/hustles to the T intersection, Trayvon ran to the T then went left toward the back of Jayne Surdyka’s house and hides in the darkness. George continues to Retreat View Circle and completes the non emergency call and hangs up. He draws his gun for the walk back in the dark with his baby flashlight out, this provides just enough light for the hiding Trayvon to see the outline of a man hunting him with gun drawn. Trayvon pounces from the darkness and tackles GZ at the T, GZ drops the baby flashlight straight down and the gun flies behind John Goode’s house. GZ and T both know the gun is in play now and run the direction the gun flew. TM tackles GZ and bashes his head against the sidewalk, JG tells them to stop (Lauer 911 call is already recording) GZ scoots off the sidewalk. TM still fighting for his life continues to punch GZ, they struggle until GZ frantic hands finds the gun in the grass, he points it at TM and fires one round. That is obviously timed with the Lauer 911 sound. Mora’s testimony makes sense then as well as Johnathon M’s story. Explains GZ comment of “Just tell her I shot someone” he knew all along because he’d had planned on shooting someone. All Rachel Jenteal needed to do was say Trayvon mentioned he was hiding and that “Now that creepy ass guy that I told you about has gotten out of his vehicle and has a gun out and a flashlight. I’m worried hes looking for me” Then she should’ve went on to say “TM said I’m gonna tackle this guy” then the phone cuts off. The SAO then introduces all of the bad TM evidence, that he was a bad kid and liked fighting, the cell phone, pot, etc. They (SAO) plays up the fighting and bad behavior/suspensions to Prove Beyond a Reasonable doubt that TM was batshit crazy and wasn’t afraid of engaging an individual with a gun drawn. Of course he would attack the guy because he’s such a bad kid…come on BDLR use the overwhelming evidence you have available (wanna be gangster, who was obviously high on some “fine a** lean” as he was found with 2 out of 3 the necessary ingredients on his body)…life gives you lemons you make lemonade. They had the full availability to have RJ tell any sort of story they wanted…too bad BC wasn’t smart enough to fabricate a better story upfront. Even so they couldve had her just change her testimony a third time to tell the GZ hunting story and reason that it changed was because she was scared if she told police TM attacked GZ with gun out it would get TM in trouble (again she knew he was a fighter thats why she wasn’t worried when he didn’t call her back, she figured he’s just been celebrating his victory over GZ and passed out on some fine lean)
    Thank you very much! “mic drop” boom, it was Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick!

  3. Casey Anthony Trial = “The Perfect Storm”
    Trayvon Martin Trial = “The Imperfect Storm”…

    Also…One important point to consider – without being extremist or paranoid – is the various forms of corrupt political agendas hoping to use – and magnify – tensions of the trial aftermath -into politically divisive racial tensions that serve their own interests. Very important to be able to read between the lines for provocateuring and disinfo.

  4. The Zimmerman trucker rescue story is just as likely to be true as a
    fabricated psy-op. Watch to see if he’s discovered nursing abandoned
    puppies back to life in the next 48 hours. …

    Whatever you believe about the roles of the various players in this event,
    at this point most important is not letting it be manipulated into a mass
    racial conflict or provocation of violence against govt. – because there
    are rogue elements of govt that have invested a lot into trying to spin this
    into a massive engineered “civil unrest” that would enable a declaration
    of martial law and more steps toward a more comprehensive totalitarian
    form of govt. and a fast and furious illegal govt. power grab far better
    facilitated by gun bans and confiscations – even better if they are
    demanded by a fearful public that’s now more eager to dis the forefathers
    and trade liberty for what they wrongly think is security.
    Objective thinking that is neither gullible nor paranoid is key.

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