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The Right Verdict: A Defense Lawyer’s Perspective on the Zimmerman Trial

A Lawyer's Perspective on why the Jury got the Zimmerman Verdict RightLike a lot of people in the United States, I’ve followed and watched most of the George Zimmerman trial over the past two to three weeks. I’ve heard many of the witnesses testify and I’ve listened intently to the arguments between the lawyers about the rules of evidence. Unlike most people who have watched the Zimmerman trial, I’m an attorney who practices criminal defense and who has an understanding of what the State had to do in order to prove its case.

As I’ve watched the witnesses testify, I established opinions on how I believed a jury would view the testimony and from there I established an opinion on what verdict I thought would be given. When the verdict was finally read and George Zimmerman was found not guilty on all accounts, like most of as the experts that I heard speak on various news programs, I was not surprised. There was not enough evidence to convict Zimmerman.

Once the verdict was read, I logged on to Twitter and began reading all of the tweets about the Zimmerman trial. Most of the tweets were from people who were filled with exasperation, frustration, confusion, and anger. There were even a few tweets about being okay with the eventual murder of Zimmerman—I can’t respect the opinion of someone who supports murder out of revenge. However, I can understand the exasperation from those who realized that a grown man who shot and killed a 17 year-old kid will get to go free, but from a legal standpoint the jury got the verdict right.

When a defendant walks into court, they walk in innocent until the State proves them guilty. This means that Zimmerman, as far as the law is concerned, walked into that courtroom innocent until the State of Florida proved him to be guilty. The prosecutors had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman instigated the fight with Martin. The State did not have to prove that Zimmerman profiled Martin or followed Martin (although, the prosecutors did present such evidence in order to support their theory that Zimmerman began the physical altercation). The State had to prove that Zimmerman actually started the physical altercation with some physical act beyond profiling and following.

To be clear, even if those two facts are enough to prove Zimmerman’s guilt in the court of public opinion, following and profiling was not sufficient to prove Zimmerman’s guilt in a court of law. When the State was done with its case, the only evidence it had of how the fight started was from a witness who was combative and appeared to be compromised, who was on the phone with Martin at the time the altercation may have happened. Beyond that, the State did not have any evidence of who started the altercation and that means the State did not have the evidence necessary to prove Zimmerman was guilty.

People are outraged at the justice system because Zimmerman was allowed to follow, profile, and kill a young 17 year-old African American child. The outrage can be understood, HOWEVER. From a legal standpoint, there is nothing illegal about profiling or following another person. The U.S. Constitution allows for the freedom of thought and expression and as morally wrong as it may be to profile someone based on their race, religion, sex, or sexual preference, the law does not recognize such acts as illegal.  Zimmerman did not commit an illegal act by following and/or profiling Martin.  The illegal act  the State had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt was that Zimmerman initiated the physical altercation with Martin–meaning that Zimmerman was the first to make actual physical contact with Martin.  Such evidence did not exist, because nobody, besides Zimmerman and Martin, saw who initiated the physical contact.

The law is supposed to be objective, whereas a person’s moral views are subjective. That is what has caused people to misplace their anger. The court system worked how it was supposed to work. Zimmerman was given the opportunity to have a trial by a jury of his peers, to be represented by counsel, to confront his accusers, and to force witnesses to testify on his behalf.  The court system rightfully placed the burden of proof on the State. (Also if profiling is wrong, people should also be upset with the prosecutors in the case for unconstitutionally profiling the jurors during jury selection, and people should also be upset that the State attempted to withhold evidence from the defense.) If people are angry with the verdict in the Zimmerman case, direct the anger at Zimmerman. Don’t direct the anger at the court system. It would be hypocritical to wish or demand that Zimmerman’s rights to a trial be circumvented based on the opinion of the masses.

It wasn’t the court system or the Constitution that ended the life of Martin—the reason Martin is no longer living is because Zimmerman decided a young African American wearing a hoodie fit the image of a criminal. Martin is no longer living because Zimmerman decided to get out of his car to follow Martin. Martin is no longer living because Zimmerman decided it was important to carry a gun with him while on his neighborhood watch. Those are the reasons Martin is no longer with us, not because the court system worked the way it was designed to work.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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