I’d like to share a few thoughts on the Zimmerman/Martin verdict, and the space in a Facebook status update is likely too small. We had a niece over last night, and when the verdict came out, she was all worried about riots and such ala Rodney King. Although there have been some protest marches, and a little bit of problems up in Oakland, things so far have been relatively quiet. She was also upset that the jury found him not guilty. This led to an explanation that I gave to her, and I’ll provide to you.
Just because the jury found Zimmerman not guilty doesn’t mean that he didn’t commit a crime. O.J. Simpson is a great example of that. All it means is that the prosecution either didn’t pick the correct charge, or didn’t prove the correct charge beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury. We don’t have a perfect system in this country — we are on a continual progress towards correction. We would rather have a guilty person found innocent than have an innocent person found guilty. This is also why — except for a few bloodthirsty folks — we would rather wait to kill someone on death row — because we don’t want to take on irreversible action on someone who is ultimately innocent. That is one of the few elements of compassion that our society has.
In this case, the prosecution did not choose a charge of first degree murder. The prosecutor thus felt that there was no planning ahead of time for the murder. It was not premeditated. He chose a charge of second degree murder, which in Florida is defined as the “unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual”. This meant that the prosecution had to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it was unlawful (not self-defense), was initiated by an act imminently dangerous, and was the product of a depraved mind. This is something difficult to show, and evidently the defense created sufficient doubt in the minds of the jury that those three things were not true.
The jury was allowed to consider the charge of manslaughter, which is a homicide without lawful justification. The fact that Zimmerman was found not guilty here probably means that the prosecution failed to dispel the self-defense argument. There was just enough doubt created that it could have been self-defense that a majority (I don’t know if Florida requires something stronger) believed there might have been lawful justification.
Given that Zimmerman has admitted the homicide, it means the prosecution didn’t do their job. It doesn’t mean Zimmerman is safe (he probably would have been safer in jail); nor does it mean that he’ll get away with no penalties. Very likely, as in the OJ case, there will be a civil suit, which has different standards and different charges. Zimmerman, while not locked away, may end up with significant financial penalties, and will forever have a stain on his name. He may not be in a physical jail, but he’ll be in the potentially worse jail of public opinion, with significant financial impacts.
So just remember that a not-guilty verdict is not the end. It doesn’t mean the accused didn’t commit a crime; it means our society would rather err on the side of the innocent. It doesn’t mean the accused will get away with no penalties on their life, especially if society sees them a guilty. All the verdict means is that the prosecution team didn’t do their job well enough — picking the right charge, and proving it beyond a reasonable doubt.
Music: Alive Alive-O (Jose Feliciano): “No Dogs Allowed”