ORLANDO, Fla. —
Sanford's police chief cited the law as his reason for not initially arresting Zimmerman in February 2012. Zimmerman told police Martin was beating him up during the confrontation and that he feared he would be killed.
Though stand-your-ground was never raised during trial, Judge Debra Nelson included a provision about the law in the instructions that allowed jurors to consider it as a legitimate defense.
"But we must examine laws that take this further by eliminating the common-sense and age-old requirement that people who feel threatened have a duty to retreat, outside their home, if they can do so safely," Holder said.
The defense skipped a chance to ask that Zimmerman have a stand-your-ground hearing before trial. If the judge had decided there was enough evidence that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, she could have tossed out the case before a jury heard it.
"Stand-your-ground laws license vigilantism and we should all worry about that," said Benjamin Jealous, the NAACP's president and CEO, after Holder's speech.
Holder on Tuesday only briefly touched on a possible federal civil rights case being brought against Zimmerman. And legal experts say such a case would be a difficult challenge.
Prosecutors would have to prove that Zimmerman was motivated by racial animosity to kill Martin. The teen was on his way back to his father's fiancee's house after going to a store when the neighborhood watch volunteer saw him and followed him in the community of about 50,000, which is about one-third black.
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton, who has been one of the most vocal champions of a federal investigation, acknowledged Tuesday there are possible legal hurdles. Still, he said "there is also a blatant civil rights question of does Trayvon Martin and the Trayvon Martins of this country have the civil right to go home."