In online comments in response to articles about the shooting made on Decoded Science and other sites, there appears to be some confusion about whether George Zimmerman committed the offense of stalking in the moments prior to the confrontation with Trayvon Martin that led the 17-year-old’s death.
Martin Begins to Run, Zimmerman Follows Him
There is absolutely no evidence Zimmerman committed any crime that evening prior to making the 911 call on the evening of February 26, 2012; Zimmerman therefore had no reason to call 911 and lie about anything.
At one point during the conversation, Zimmerman tells the phone dispatcher that Martin is now running. After getting some specific information as to where the teen was running, the dispatcher asks Zimmerman if he is following him.
At this point Zimmerman answers “yeah.” This is when the dispatcher says, “Ok, we don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman replies “Ok.”
It is less certain whether Zimmerman continued to follow him at that point, or if he backed off and later came in contact with Martin after the teen confronted him. But Zimmerman certainly was following Martin at some point during the evening. Does that action constitute criminal stalking?
Stalking Under Florida Law
Section 784.048 (2) of the Florida Statutes states when “a person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person” the person is guilty of the offence of stalking. Stalking is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to one year and a fine not exceeding $1,000.
- In order to be convicted of stalking, it must be proved the defendant followed the victim “repeatedly.” Whether or not Zimmerman stopped following Martin after the dispatcher told him it was not necessary or continued to follow him, the following was all one act. He did not “repeatedly” follow Martin.
- Another aspect of the offense is the following must be done “maliciously”. Malice is similar to the “ill will and spite” that is necessary in order to get a conviction for second-degree murder.
- Since the jury was not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman had “ill will and spite” at the time he shot and killed Martin, there is no evidence he had any malicious intent at the time he followed him.
- As well, it would be extremely hard to argue Zimmerman was maliciously following Martin while, or even after he was on the phone to 911, had identified himself, and gave his location to the dispatcher so officers could be sent.
Stalking can also consist of “harassment” rather than “following”
‘Harassment’ is defined as a “course of conduct directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose.”
Again, even if Martin did experience emotional distress, prosecutors would have to prove this one brief encounter was “a course of conduct” and that Zimmerman had no legitimate purpose in ‘harassing’ him. It would be difficult to argue that following Martin so the police would know where he was after they arrived constituted stalking, when it was done on only one occasion, and without malice.
Florida also has an offense of aggravating stalking applicable when a “credible threat” is made during the course of stalking.
Aggravated stalking is a felony but there is no evidence this crime is applicable.