The real culprit in the Zimmerman case is the Florida stand your ground law. This NRA/ALEC law was enacted in Florida in 2005. Since then, rate of homicides claimed to be legally "justifiable" in Florida has jumped 300 percent.
It used to be that you could use deadly force within your home if your life was endangered. But otherwise, a victim had the duty and obligation to flee, to retreat to a position of safety, if at all possible. Now a killer only has to think that his life, or great bodily harm, might be endangered. Stand your ground law goes beyond the common law notion of self defense, because it creates a presumption in a shooter's favor. This means prosecutors must disprove a killer's assertion that he felt threatened, rather than a shooter having to establish he acted reasonably and in self defense. It also bars the deceased's family from bringing a civil suit.
The Zimmerman jury was instructed on Florida law concerning 2nd degree murder and manslaughter (aka negligent homicide). But they were not instructed about jury nullification. Not by the judge, and not by the prosecution. Indeed very few juries are ever informed about jury nullification. Everyone should know about jury nullification: that it is a right, long established in both federal and state law.
Jury nullification enables a jury to protect fellow citizens from tyrannical prosecutions and bad laws unfairly imposed by government. Jury nullification has a long history in the US. Jurors in the past have ignored unpopular laws created and enforced by the government. For example, many juries ignored alcohol control laws during the 1930s Prohibition era when the sale and transportation of alcohol was illegal.
Juries have always had the power to ignore the law. Most courts don't investigate the reasons why a jury found a particular verdict. Courts would have no idea that a jury ignored the law instead of determining that the evidence was insufficient. More importantly, jurors cannot be punished for their verdict.
Jury nullification usually means a verdict of 'not guilty,' when the facts of a case show that laws were broken. Some famous laws that were ignored by juries include:
* Freedom of religion, speech, and assembly - William Penn (London, 1670).
* Freedom from witch hunts - 50 acquittals in a row stopped witch trials (Salem, 1693).
* Freedom from slavery - fugitive slave laws (America, 1850s).
* Freedom to strike - anti-strike laws (late 1800s), which caused business interests to pressure judges to stop informing juries of their power.
* Freedom to drink alcohol - Prohibition (1930s). Convictions became rare even without instruction.
Noah Webster, whose purpose in publishing a dictionary was to preserve the meaning of the language used in the Constitution, in his first Dictionary of the English Language (1828), included the following in his definition of "jury": "Petty juries, consisting usually of twelve men, attend courts to try matters of fact in civil causes, and to decide both the law and the fact in criminal prosecutions."
While jury nullification is usually understood to mean voting 'not guilty,' in the face of unjust laws; it could also mean voting 'guilty,' when a law gives unfair and unreasonable advantage to a perpetrator, such as George Zimmerman. Remember, jury nullification is about passing judgement on the law.