George Zimmerman: Self-defense hearing could dismiss death charge
10:07 p.m. EST, April 11, 2012|
By Henry Pierson Curtis, Orlando Sentinel
George Zimmerman can ask to have the second-degree-murder charge against him dropped without having to stand trial in the death of Trayvon Martin.
Two years ago, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that anyone claiming "stand your ground" immunity in a death, battery or assault case can request a hearing on the evidence.
The hearing allows the prosecution and defense to argue all the elements of self-defense in the case evidence. To get charges dismissed, the accused must convince the judge that a reasonable person would believe that using deadly force or the threat of deadly force was the only way to protect his or her life, court records show.
The state's "stand your ground" law passed in 2005 says:
"A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."
In its Dec. 16, 2010, ruling, the state Supreme Court stated that defendants claiming self-defense are entitled to evidentiary hearings to argue that the evidence in their cases proves they had the right to protect themselves.
The most recent of these hearings in Orlando failed.
The case involved a fatal knifing in May 2011 at a popular downtown bar, The Lodge, where Craig Sandhaus claimed he stabbed bouncer Milton Torres to protect his younger brother Eric Sandhaus. The brothers were being ejected when a fight began and Craig Sandhaus stabbed Torres, 25, three times in the heart, pelvis and hip, according to testimony at the hearing.
"I was scared for my brother," Craig Sandhaus said. "The only thing I could possibly do was stab Torres."
Orange County Circuit Judge Alan Apte disagreed in February and ordered Craig Sandhaus to stand trial on a charge of second-degree murder. Apte ruled that Sandhaus could have used less force and that he did not have a carry concealed weapon permit for the knife that was larger than a common folding knife.
A pretrial hearing is set July 30.
A successful hearing in Broward County involved a 2009 confrontation on Interstate 95 between truck driver Julio Abreu Jimenez, who was charged with pulling a gun and threatening another truck driver. After pulling off the highway, Jimenez claimed he drew his weapon only after the other driver left his truck and approached him in a threatening manner, court records show.
The charge of aggravated assault with a firearm was dropped at the end of the one-hour hearing.
"We thought the facts of the case were clear-cut," said Fort Lauderdale attorney Daniel Berman, who began his career with the Orange-Osceola Public Defender's Office. "We were surprised he was even charged."
Berman said he thinks Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's lawyer, will request an evidentiary hearing as part of his defense of Zimmerman's "stand your ground" claim.