George Zimmerman's arrest is just the beginning of a long legal journey for the man who says he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense.
On Wednesday, he was charged with second-degree murder and taken into custody.
In order to arrest Zimmerman, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey had to present evidence to a judge that constituted probable cause, which is difficult to define. Generally, if there's evidence, facts and circumstances that would convince a reasonable person to believe a crime was committed, then there's probable cause for an arrest.
First court appearance
Zimmerman will have his first appearance in court within 24 hours of his arrest. At this first appearance, a judge will read Zimmerman's charges. Bond will not be addressed at this initial hearing, because second degree murder is considered a "non-bondable" offense. However, Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara can request an "Arthur Hearing" to try to get bond set. At this hearing, the state will have to present enough evidence to the judge to show Zimmerman's guilt is evident to support not granting the defendant bond. If O'Mara requests the hearing, it should happen within days. It's also possible that prosecutors could avoid all of this and just consent to granting Zimmerman bond.
Two or three weeks after his first court appearance, Zimmerman will be arraigned and enter a plea on the charges at his arraignment. At this stage, defendants almost never plead guilty, and many times, the defendant will waive the appearance at the actual court hearing and the attorney will enter a written plea of not guilty on the defendant's behalf.
" Stand Your Ground" hearing
After Zimmerman is charged, he is entitled to a pre-trial evidentiary hearing on whether he has immunity under Florida's "Stand Your Ground." The burden at this hearing is on the defense to prove "by a preponderance of the evidence" that Zimmerman was justified in using deadly force. "Preponderance of the evidence" means that the defense has to prove that it's more likely than not that Zimmerman used justifiable force under the law.
The "Stand your Ground" statute provides criminal and civil immunity to people who protect themselves if: They are engaged in a lawful activity; they are being attacked in a place they have a right to be; and they reasonably believe that their lives are in danger. The judge will determine if Zimmerman's action's were justifiable under the statute. If Zimmerman wins at this hearing he will have immunity from criminal prosecution and possibly civil liability. If he loses, the case will proceed.
However, it's important to remember that both the prosecution and the defense can appeal the judge's ruling. If the defense loses and appeals, it could stop the trial in its tracks until the a higher court resolves the legal issue.
Other pre-trial hearings
If the prosecution's case survives the "Stand your Ground" test, the case will proceed to other pre-trial hearings. Both the prosecution and defense could file a slew of motions in the case that deal with anything and everything from turning over documents and evidence to keeping certain evidence out at trial.
At the trial, prosecutors will have to prove the elements of each charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Even if Zimmerman loses on the "Stand your Ground" pre-trial argument, he would still be able to claim self-defense at his criminal trial.