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George Zimmerman Trial Outcome

First let me start this post with this thought: Trayvon Martin’s Death was a terrible tragedy.

That said, a tragedy does not a lawsuit make.  The greatness of the American system of justice comes from a simple yet profound tenet, that a person is innocent until proven guilty.  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said “This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice.”   and Charles T. Sprading once stated “Although the legal and ethical definitions of right are the antithesis of each other, most writers use them as synonyms.  They confuse power with goodness, and mistake law for justice.”

Simply stated the State of Florida could not prove their case.  The burden of proof beyond and to the exclusion of any reasonable doubt is a high standard.  In fact it is VERY high and rightfully so.

The presumption of innocence, sometimes referred to by the Latin expression Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (the burden of proof lies with who declares, not who denies), is the principle that one is considered innocent until proven guilty.   Application of this principle is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial.  The burden of proof is thus on the prosecution, which has to collect and present enough compelling evidence to convince the trier of fact, who is restrained and ordered by law to consider only actual evidence and testimony that is legally admissible, and in most cases lawfully obtained, that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If reasonable doubt remains, the accused is to be acquitted.

Why do we have the principal of presumptive innocence?

Because of God.  It is very clear that God does not want us to punish the innocent.

The example appears in the very First book of the Bible (Genesis 18:23-32),as:

23 Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” 27 Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

The 12th-century legal theorist Maimonides, expounding on this passage as well as Exodus 23:7 (“the innocent and righteous slay thou not”) argued that executing an accused criminal on anything less than absolute certainty would progressively lead to convictions merely “according to the judge’s caprice. Hence the Exalted One has shut this door” against the use of presumptive evidence, for “it is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.

Sir John Fortescue’s De Laudibus Legum Angliae (c. 1470) states that “one would much rather that twenty guilty persons should escape the punishment of death, than that one innocent person should be condemned and suffer capitally.”

Similarly, on 3 October 1692, while decrying the Salem witch trials, Increase Mather adapted Fortescue’s statement and wrote, “It were better that Ten Suspected Witches should escape, than that the Innocent Person should be Condemned.”

Other commentators have echoed the principle; Benjamin Franklin stated it as, “it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer“.

Defending British soldiers charged with murder for their role in the Boston Massacre, John Adams also expanded upon the rationale when he stated:

It is more important that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt be punished; for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world, that all of them cannot be punished…. when innocence itself, is brought to the bar and condemned, especially to die, the subject will exclaim, ‘it is immaterial to me whether I behave well or ill, for virtue itself is no security.’ And if such a sentiment as this were to take hold in the mind of the subject that would be the end of all security whatsoever.”  This was the same quote used by Zimmerman’s attorney in his closing arguments.

Confession of a Legal Junkie

I have to admit, that I am a legal junkie. I watch Reality Court Television.  Hours of the show “In Session”, a die hard fan of “The People’s Court”, I love Court Drama’s from the current “Suits” to too numerous to count older ones such as “Boston Legal”, “Harry’s Law”, and “LA Law”.  I was saddened when CourtTV became TruTV (what a waste).  So like the Casey Anthony Trial, I watched nearly every minute of the Zimmerman trial by religiously recording it on my DVR and then dedicating my evenings to hours upon hours of proceedings and testimonies.  Thank goodness I could fast forward through countless sidebars and recesses.  I watched the mundane housekeeping, and the minute details of numerous hearings.  I watched it all.

Presuming Innocence

Let me start off by saying that I presumed innocence from the get go.  Presume means “to take for granted, assume, or suppose”.  Assume means “to Suppose to be the case, without proof”.  Setting aside what my personal opinions are about guns (I am pro gun) or about capital punishment (I am pro Death Penalty), or about murder (I am a God fearing man who also believes in the 10 commandments).  Setting aside whether I believe in Self Defense (I do) or whether I think it should NOT be a crime to take a short cut home in the rain on your way from a convenience store  (I don’t).  Setting aside what I believe happened that fateful night (Wrong place at the wrong time for both parties). I looked at the evidence as best I could without any presumptions other than Zimmerman is innocent first.  The state must bring forth evidence that convinces a normal person to believe there is no other possible explanation (reasonable doubt).

So what is reasonable doubt?

Reasonable doubt is a standard of proof used in criminal trials. When a criminal defendant is prosecuted, the prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. If the jury—or the judge in a bench trial—has a reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt, the jury or judge should pronounce the defendant not guilty. Conversely, if the jurors or judge have no doubt as to the defendant’s guilt, or if their only doubts are unreasonable doubts, then the prosecutor has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and the defendant should be pronounced guilty.

Reasonable doubt is the highest standard of proof used in court. In civil litigation the standard of proof is either proof by a preponderance of the evidence or proof by clear and convincing evidence. These are lower burdens of proof. A preponderance of the evidence simply means that one side has more evidence in its favor than the other, even by the smallest degree. Clear and convincing evidence is evidence that establishes a high probability that the fact sought to be proved is true. The main reason that the high proof standard of reasonable doubt is used in criminal trials is that criminal trials can result in the deprivation of a defendant’s liberty or in the defendant’s death, outcomes far more severe than occur in civil trials where money damages are the common remedy.

So what’s the reasonable doubt in this case?

Jeantel told Trayvon to run and she started hearing wind. Trayvon told her he was going to get home “through the back.”  The phone then shuts off.  She calls back and Trayvon answers.  He tells Jeantel he is almost home. She can hear that he is out of breath. He tells her that he “lost” the man following him.

It’s possible and reasonable to believe that Trayvon made it home, then after making it home and instead of going inside he decided to confront Zimmerman.  To understand why this is important needs a diagram (or 5)

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So is it reasonable from the testimony to believe that Trayvon did that?  Yes.  It’s also possible from the testimony that something else happened.  In fact there are NUMEROUS possibilities.  I have opinions, but that’s the rub for those that wanted to see Zimmerman convicted.  There are too many possibilities and all of those possibilities are reasonable or plausible.  If they are even possible, then the jury has to find “Not Guilty” .  There just isn’t enough concrete evidence that remove all of those possibilities from reasonable doubt.

Nevertheless, nobody can know what went through the mind of Zimmerman at the moment that he pulled his weapon and used it.  I’ll bet anything that he was scared to death.  Literally.  Did he have a right to defend himself?  Was he in fear for his life?  I believe so.  I believe the Jury thought so too.

Could Zimmerman prevented it?

Yes.  He could have driven by Trayvon, and just kept going.  He could have stopped following him earlier.  He could have chosen not to get out of the car.  He could have chosen not to follow Martin on foot.  He could have prevented it completely.  He could have prevented it by never having moved to this complex in the first place. But does the fact that he could have prevented it make him guilty?  No.  The only way that it could would be if there was evidence to show that Zimmerman knew this was what the outcome would be.  I doubt that as he left to go to Target that he ever thought he was going to be in this situation only a few minutes later.  I doubt if he had the the foresight to see this eventuality.  He decided to do this to be a contributing member of his community.  He didn’t get out of the car intending to shoot Trayvon.  He got out to tell the cops where Trayvon was.  Like so many times before he tried to assist the police with someone he thought looked suspicious. He never thought that it would come out like this.

The Evidence Wasn’t Presented Because the Evidence Didn’t Exist

The state presented everything they had.  There wasn’t any more.  There wasn’t enough evidence to convict.  My opinion is because the evidence just didn’t exist.  Other’s believe differently, they believe that Zimmerman is guilty, but there just simply isn’t enough evidence to prove that.

It’s a Damn Shame

The whole thing is a damn shame.  It’s a shame that a 17 year old kid lost his life, that families lost a loved one, a mother and father lost a son, that a brother lost a brother, that friends lost a friend.  It’s also a shame that Zimmerman will never have a life.  I’ll bet that he wishes he left his house 30 seconds later.  That none of this ever happened.

What We All Can Learn

First and foremost we must all be ever grateful to God that we have a legal system that presumes innocence.  No matter what side of this issue we may fall how happy or unhappy people may be about the verdict we need to know what it looks likes when we presume guilt.

Some legal systems have employed presumptions of guilt, such as at an order to show cause criminal proceeding. Otherwise, accusations of presumption of guilt generally do not imply an actual legal presumption of guilt, but rather denounce failures to ensure that suspects are treated well and are offered good defense conditions. Typical infringements include:

  • In some systems, suspects may be detained for long periods while inquiries proceed. Such long imprisonment constitutes, in practice, a hardship and a punishment for the suspect, even though they have not been sentenced.
  • Courts may prefer the testimonies of persons of certain class, status, ethnicity, sex, or economic or political standing over those of others, regardless of actual circumstances.
  • Until relatively recently, it was common for the justice system to have suspects tortured to extract confessions from them, since circumstantial evidence was rarely analyzed or admitted in those times. This practice is generally and has generally been disallowed in the more recent past.
  • Some public universities punish members of athletic teams accused of felonies after they are indicted, even if they have not been convicted. In some cases this may entail expulsion from the team and/or loss of the athletic scholarship.

Personally I think we just witnessed our legal system functioning just the way it was supposed to.  Without sufficient evidence a man was not convicted.  The reverse would be true if we presumed guilt.  How incredibly hard it would be to prove you didn’t do something.  To have to prove that you thought a certain thing.  It’s nearly impossible to prove a negative.  If we had to we would be at the mercy of the government, incarcerating any of us at will.

What Gun Owners Can Learn

There is a sage quote that applies here “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”  I am a law abiding gun owner.  I have thought many times about how I would handle a particular situation if I was ever in one.  Years ago when I was in the convenience store wholesale business and regularly carried cash, I carried a weapon every hour of every day.  If you don’t think about scenarios and mentally prepare yourself, you will likely make a grave mistake if the time ever arises that you need to use your weapon.

First, I might suggest that you think twice about putting yourself in harms way intentionally.  I don’t know if I would have left my vehicle.  The gun surely made Zimmerman more bold.  Without it would he have left the vehicle on a dark and rainy night?  doubtful.  I Don’t think that gun owners should be emboldened by the fact that they are carrying.  They should act the same way they would without the weapon.  The weapon is there to utilize in the event that you have to defend yourself.  Putting yourself into a situation where that “might” occur is not a good idea.  So you need to ask yourself a question.  “Would I do this if I was unarmed” if the answer is no, then you shouldn’t do it because you are armed.

In Closing

It bears repeating. The whole thing is a damn shame.  It’s a shame that a 17 year old kid lost his life, that families lost a loved one, a mother and father lost a son, that a brother lost a brother, that friends lost a friend.  It’s also a shame that Zimmerman will never have a life.  I’ll bet that he wishes he left his house 30 seconds later.  That none of this ever happened.  Rest in Peace Trayvon, and Good Luck and Godspeed George.

One Response to George Zimmerman Trial Outcome

  • This is excellent analysis and very well written. Very insightful. I think you have shed a lot of light on both the laws and the legal philosophies involved. That said, Florida is different, and the verdict may have been different in another state. George Zimmerman claimed self-defense in this case. That is an affirmative defense. Other affirmative defenses include insanity and necessity. In essence, an affirmative defense acknowledges that the accused took the action in question, but argues that the act is not a criminal act, because of the affirmative defense (i.e.- the defendant was acting in self defense, the defendant was insane, the defendant had no other option because someone was pointing a gun at his head, etc.) In an affirmative defense, the burden of proof typically shifts from the prosecution to the defendant. Even in Florida, if someone pleads not guilty by reason of insanity, they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were insane; it is not the State that must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are not insane. That would be a difficult burden for the State to bear. Or think of the necessity defense. The defendant must prove that they have no other options than to commit the crime because, for instance, someone was pointing a gun at their head. The State would not have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that such a thing didn’t happen. That would be pretty crazy, and everyone would claim a necessity defense. In most states, (40 I think) the burden is on the person claiming self defense. They must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were acting in self-defense–that they feared for their life. Florida is one of the few states where the burden remains on the State. You could hear commentators talk about how difficult it would be for the State to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was not afraid for his life. In states where the burden would be on the defendant to prove they acted in self-defense, Zimmerman may have been convicted on manslaughter. At the very least, I think he would have had to take the stand to present his case, and that would have opened up a whole line of additional testimony. I agree that there was not enough proof to convict under the current laws, but I wonder if things would have been different had he been tried in a different state. And that raises the question of whether the Florida law is a good one or one in need of changing.

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