This past Saturday night, I was alone, working on the myriad tasks that I needed to complete before the beginning of the next work week (see, the life of an attorney is very, very glamorous). In the middle of preparing a court filing I saw that there was some movement on the George Zimmerman case. I immediately went to MSNBC, Fox and CNN (toggling between all three) to see what I could find out.
Initially, the news was that there might be news. Perhaps in the near future. Pointless prognostication ens ued. Then, after what seemed like forever, it was revealed that the jury returned with a verdict. Within minutes, the six-person panel came back with a “Not guilty.”
As I’ve said before, I’m two people: an attorney and a person. In this instance, both were pleased with the outcome.
The attorney in me has been repulsed by the acts of the prosecution throughout the entirety of the case. First, the local authorities investigated the matter, and determined that charges against Zimmerman shouldn’t be filed. Then, the state capital got involved (as well as the United States Department of Justice), and bowing to public pressure, came back with an indictment of first degree murder.
In an earlier column, I said that a charge of first degree murder, in this instance, would be very difficult, if not impossible to prove. In such a charge, the government would have to prove intent, which, given the set of facts presented, would be an awfully hard mountain to climb. So what is a prosecutor to do?
Apparently, the strategy was to wait until both sides presented their cases. Then, the state looked over the evidence and testimony and figured out what they could possibly prove. This resulted in two completely bogus charges: manslaughter and child abuse (I paraphrase). This is so wrong, it isn’t even funny.
Amazingly, the judge relented, and allowed at least one of the lesser charges to be considered. Despite strenuous protests by the defense, the jury was instructed to deliberate on charges that were not originally brought against Zimmerman. Thankfully, the jury saw through the subterfuge, and brought back the correct verdict. The verdict that best brought American justice to the matter.
In watching the aftermath, it was interesting observing the news channels second-guess the jury. Some said that the jury got it completely wrong (one commentator states something to the effect that no one knew the ethnicity of one of the jurors, and that was unacceptable. How? Isn’t that what we’re all moving toward? ) Yet another said the lack of African American males was a direct result of the law preventing those convicted of felonies from serving on juries. What? Sorry, if you commit a serious enough crime worthy of a felony, a great deal of your rights should be taken away. I guess we need to relax that standard, or at least arrest fewer African American males so they cannot have rights taken away.
Thankfully, despite the media’s best efforts to incite riots (riots that would have cost lives and property damage), the day of destruction never occurred. It would appear cooler heads prevailed.
I believe I’ve said this before, but people do ask me how I can represent people that I think might be guilty. No lie, it’s difficult. But I let the interrogator know that everyone is allowed representation. Further, the government, as we’ve seen again and again, has unlimited resources, and most of the rules on its side. Given that potential disparity, we have a right to ensure that the government has to follow the rules.
In this instance, the government clearly didn’t follow the proper procedures. The local government decided not to file charges. The state government (and the feds) got involved and brought charges against the defendant. Then, it appeared the government, for maximum effect (and because it was coming up on an election year) decided to charge Zimmerman with the maximum penalty. During the discovery phase of the trial, the defense had to fight, tooth and nail for each and every document that they should have been given as a matter of right. Those defendants without means for the absolutely best attorneys, would have had to forego a great deal of the documents this defense team fought for, as there wouldn’t have been enough money to engage in the fight. The government had to be kept to a high standard, one they failed to attain.
Thankfully, this chapter in American justice is closed.
Chris Markham writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.