Does Anyone Actually Understand the American Legal System?

A part of me wanted to wax high and mighty in my diatribe against those who keep talking as if George Zimmerman should have been convicted of murder, but then I realized that such a maneuver would have been wee bit disingenuous of me since I really don’t know a whole lot either, however much I’d like to tell myself that I do.

The fact of the matter is, however, that the verdict was appropriate given the amount and quality of the data presented at the trial. Whether or not George Zimmerman actually murdered Trayvon Martin is irrelevant unless the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that such was the case, since the accused is always presumed innocent, while the accuser is faced with the burden to prove his or her claims. Even if these claims make sense and seem to be probable, a conviction cannot happen if the evidence doesn’t substantiate them to a satisfactory degree. This has nothing to do with race. It’s a basic principle that applied to O.J. Simpson as much as it does to George Zimmerman, and it’s a principle meant to protect the innocent from being wrongfully imprisoned.

Now, it’s hard to deny that something really bad happened back in February. There’s no ignoring it: a young man is dead, and everyone involved will have to live with that reality in one way or another, which is tragic from any perspective. A family will never see their little boy again, and I can’t really blame them for whatever rage and sadness they feel at this point in time, since I’d most likely be the same way. To make matters worse, the ever-present feeling that the color of their skin played a role in Trayvon’s demise no doubt adds an extra sensation of injustice to the already-existing sting of having lost a child. But let’s not forget George Zimmerman. If we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that the the whole thing was an accident (or even if we don’t), then he’s faced with a future in which he bears the responsibility for another man’s death, all the while being hated by not only the black community but a substantial portion of the white. He may have come out alive, but I dare say that there have been times already where he wished the opposite were true.

The way I see it, George Zimmerman committed no actual crime. Did he do something stupid? Maybe; but there isn’t any hard evidence that he broke the law (and again, he can’t be convicted just because people think he’s guilty). Instead of arguing about what appears to some a miscarriage of justice, then, maybe what we should really be focusing on is the underlying cause of racial bias that has tainted both blacks and whites for years, regardless of how this case squares with the formal books of jurisprudence. Zimmerman was suspicious of a man, possibly at least in part, because he was black, while Martin felt he was being followed by a “creepy-ass cracker”; and while one can’t really blame him, his choice of nomenclature may be illustrative of a failure in certain circles of the black community to assuage the already-existing prejudice found among some whites, who become only more aggravated when they feel that everything they do and say is offensive and racist.

Maybe, instead of yelling at each other and crying “foul” each time a racial conflict arises, we could look to those communities and organizations in which blacks and whites exist peacefully side-by-side, taking a page from their book and learning what ingredients are necessary and beneficial for a good and wholesome relationship between the two races and among all. Pointing the finger only makes things worse, and that’s the real injustice because that just strengthens and exacerbates the fundamental condition that got us here in the first place.

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2 comments

  1. You’re quite right in explaining the high level of evidence required to sustain a criminal conviction, and the reasons it ought to be high. I’m not a lawyer, but I can opine about other possible crimes in an unqualified fashion. I hope you’ll accept it in that light. I’m just brainstorming for the mental exercise.

    If you are armed and you impede, confront or detain a person who is not engaged in criminal activity, and you have no legal authority to do that, it’s a civil rights violation under federal statutes. I don’t know what level of evidence is required to sustain conviction. Martin was no angel, but on this night all he was doing was walking through his father’s neighborhood, at least until he thought he was being followed.

    As happened in the Simpson case, one can also be found responsible for a wrongful death by a civil standard of evidence (more likely than not). Such conviction results in a monetary award for responsibility, not a deprivation of liberty as in a criminal conviction. Since Zimmerman chose to follow Martin directly against the advice of a 911 dispatcher, his action might be considered as causing the death, even if it occurred in an act of self-defense.

    1. One could certainly argue that Zimmerman was responsible for Martin’s death, and how that would pan out in a civil suit is yet to be seen. A part of me wouldn’t mind seeing some sort of monetary restitution for the Martin family, since, in a way, it kind of was a wrongful death, even if the cause was self-defense. I’m not sure what kind of ruling would result in that sort of trial. Not being a legal expert either, I’m also not sure what to make of federal statutes prohibiting an armed individual from confronting an innocent man not involved in criminal activity, but I’m not sure that’s applicable here. It may be, but I haven’t seen much in that regard, so I’m assuming it’s not one of the strong points of the prosecution. Alan Derschowitz said earlier that individuals not affiliated with the state don’t usually get charged with civil rights violations, so I don’t know if there really is much of a case.

      Thanks for the friendly comment, though! I appreciate it.

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