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Trayvon Martin case: Why hasn't George Zimmerman been arrested? (+video)

The lead investigator into the death of Trayvon Martin reportedly thought George Zimmerman should be charged, but legal analysts say police thought they lacked the evidence to do so.

By Staff writer / March 28, 2012

A sign with information regarding a neighborhood watch program stands in front of The Retreat at Twin Lakes community in Sanford, Fla., Tuesday. Trayvon Martin was shot dead on February 26 after George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, believed the young man walking through the gated community in a hooded sweatshirt looked suspicious.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

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Washington

Why didn’t the Sanford, Fla., police arrest George Zimmerman after he shot Trayvon Martin Feb. 26? That’s a question that today is more relevant than ever amid reports the lead investigator in the case thought Mr. Zimmerman should be charged with manslaughter for his actions.

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Trayvon Martin's parents went before a congressional panel and thanked those who turned their 17-year-old son's death into a cry against racial profiling. Martin's parents spoke at a Capitol Hill forum that began with a moment of silence.

The investigator, Chris Serino, was unconvinced by Zimmerman’s assertion that he resorted to deadly force in self-defense, according to ABC News. Mr. Serino filed an affidavit to that effect on the night of the killing.

But Serino’s superiors, in turn, were apparently unconvinced by Serino’s reasoning. They did not take Zimmerman into custody because of two words: “probable cause.”

“The Sanford police said this is why they did not arrest Zimmerman: they did not have probable cause to believe that he had broken the law,” writes legal analyst Dave Kopel, research director of the Independence Institute, on the widely read legal blog The Volokh Conspiracy.

Florida’ Stand Your Ground law would have been legally irrelevant to this determination, according to Mr. Kopel. Florida has other statutes that allow the use of force against a criminal attack, as do virtually all states. Zimmerman’s story has been that he was doing exactly that: defending against an assault by Martin. In his version of events, Martin knocked him down, then straddled him and pounded his head on the ground. He did not have an opportunity to retreat, he told police.

On the day of the shooting, Sanford police officials determined that they did not have enough evidence to the contrary to detain Zimmerman. Whether they were suspicious of his story would not have mattered. They would have had to produce hard evidence to the contrary. The “probable cause” criterion is derived from the Constitution and is meant to protect against unreasonable arrest.

“The normal rule in American law is that a police officer must have ‘probable cause’ in order to arrest someone,” writes Kopel.

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