Whether you live in Madison, Rankin, or Hinds County, you cannot turn on the television without seeing a broadcast about the Trayvon Martin case. Just in case you have forgotten, Trayvon Martin is the 17 year old young African American boy shot in Florida by a Hispanic security while Treyvon was cutting through a white subdivision. The news about this case has been unrelenting and people have asked did this happen because Trayvon was a young black man in a white neighborhood or is part of a bigger picture highlighting the problems with guns in this country and the laws called Stand Your Ground or Shoot First, Ask Questions Later.

I did some research and learned that there are 24 states that have self-defense laws just like the one in Florida. Mississippi’s law is similar to Florida but it is not quite as liberal. There is actually another line of self-defense laws called the Castle Doctrine. These laws allow someone to stand their ground with a deadly weapon when they are at their home. What makes Florida and the other 23 states so different is they have expanded self-defense outside the home and these laws do not require a person to retreat. In the past, if a person was confronted by force and he had an opportunity to retreat, he was required to do so, but this changed with the Stand Your Ground Laws. I have heard people say that the Stand Your Ground laws and other such laws are nothing more than the arms manufacturers lobbying through the National Rifle Association so more weapons can be sold and more profit made. This may be true, I don’t know. I do think that nowadays people feel unsafe in many places in their life and the Stand Your Ground laws have a great deal of appeal and make folks feel safe.

When the Treyvon Martin case first happened I was puzzled by the actions of the local police department. Looking at the case from a neutral standpoint, it always seemed to me the wiser move to present the case to a Grand Jury from the outset and let the Grand Jury decide whether to indict. However, the law in Mississippi is very strong and it is the prosecutor who has the discretion to decide who will be prosecuted and what they will be prosecuted for in terms of crimes. I was also bothered by the fact that Mr. Zimmerman ignored the police dispatcher and continued to follow Treyvon Martin. Now, based on newly released photographs, it appears that Mr. Zimmerman had injuries to his face and body from an altercation. Trust me, this case is going to be interesting and I hope each side has capable advocates.

Many people do not understand our system of justice in America. We have an advocacy form of justice. It is believed that two capable advocates, each presenting their views of the evidence, will allow the juries of the community to make the ruling that best give justice. Of course, based on all the exonerations in America we know the system sometimes fails. I like to remind people the system is only as good as integrity of the people who work in the system and the juries who come to serve.

One of the things I find very interesting is that in Florida a case can be dismissed before Court if the accused invokes self-defense. The prosecution must then disprove the self-defense. In Mississippi when the accused is charged with a homicide and raises self-defense, the prosecution must also disprove the self-defense but it is done during the trial and not before, except in those instances when the prosecutor makes the decision not to charge. The Treyvon Martin case is going to be an emotionally charged case. The way it started, or maybe didn’t start, has opened more old racial wounds in the South.

I hope that the heated and hostile rhetoric can stop now. Mr. Zimmerman has been charged and the case is proceeding through the legal system as every case does. The lawyers will probably have motions, and then a jury will be selected. A jury is going be allowed to hear all the evidence and make a decision on the actions of Mr. Zimmerman based upon Florida self-defense law. This is how the system works. Keep turned to the television, I am sure we will all watch real-time how the case is going and how it will turn out.

Merrida Coxwell is a partner in Coxwell & Associates, PLLC. The firm consists of four (4) attorneys who are dedicated to law as their life career. Merrida is a veteran criminal defense attorney and has handled some of the most highly publicized cases in the state. You can reach him at 601-948-1600 or

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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