The all or nothing decision that awaits jurors in the George Zimmerman case is different than in other states, as Florida does not have a sliding scale of penalties.
Most recently, the prosecution asked to add a manslaughter count, which is a lesser count than the second degree murder charge, says retired Superior Court Judge Eugene Hyman of Santa Clara, California. He adds that a judge is required to instruct on all lesser charges that are part of the main charge, because the defendant may not be guilty of that but may be guilty of a lesser charge.
Sometimes, says Hyman, defendants don't want lesser charges, rather they want all or nothing but the law states, generally speaking, that the jury is entitled to be instructed on lesser charges because the jury is there to seek the truth and cannot be constrained by what the defendant wants.
Hyman points out that an all or nothing isn't with respect to the lesser charge but to whether or not the defendant was reasonable or unreasonable in the belief that his life was being threatened. In most jurisdictions, a person does not have to relinquish their place, meaning if they're not doing anything criminal themselves, they're not required to retreat.
If Zimmerman was unreasonable in his beliefs, meaning if he subjectively thought his life was at risk, then the next test is if he was objectively reasonable in that subjective belief, says Hyman. In Florida, hypothetically, if the jury determines Zimmerman is unreasonable, they are placed in the position to find him guilty or not guilty of murder, which is all or nothing. The jury might have difficulty convicting him of second degree murder, because they're not being offered another alternative and if so, they might have difficulty convicting him.
By the prosecution having convinced the judge to go ahead and instruct on manslaughter, Hyman says they are trying to negate the all or nothing. If he's not guilty of murder, they'd like the jury to consider manslaughter. Hyman speculates the prosecution might be realizing the difficulty in proving this case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Hyman thinks there will be areas of doubt with respect to the murder charge but the prosecution might be able to get manslaughter, as there's enough doubt that's been out there.
Honorable Judge Eugene Hyman has received numerous awards and recognition for his work with families and children and has appeared on numerous television news shows. For more information, visit www.judgehyman.com. He is also a featured commentator on The Family Law Channel and The Legal Broadcast Network.