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Even If George Zimmerman Found Not Guilty Of Murder And Manslaughter, He Could Still Get 25 Years

Even If Zimmerman Is Found Not Guilty Of Murder And Manslaughter, He Could Still Serve 25 Years

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.

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This post republished with permission from Richard Hornsby.

Bio:
Richard Hornsby is a board certified Florida criminal trial lawyer. His website is: richardhornsby.com.
Past President, Central Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
2007 Best of the Bar, Criminal Defense, Orlando Business Journal

Richard E. Hornsby, P.A.
1217 E. Robinson Street
Orlando, FL 32801-2115
Telephone: 407-540-1551
Facsimile: 407-540-1553

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