A Comment on State v. Zimmerman

Ok, State v. Zimmerman was a criminal case, not a civil case. much less a tort case. (Zimmerman may be sued by Martin’s family – more on that below). But, in the "for what it’s worth department, here are my comments on the criminal verdict:

1. I don’t know if Zimmerman murdered Martin or if he did not.

2. I know that Zimmerman killed Martin.

3. I know that Zimmerman was carrying a firearm that the law said he had a right to carry.

4. I know that Martin was unarmed.

5. I know that under our system of justice Zimmerman had a right to insist upon a trial by jury.

6. I know that Zimmerman had a right to insist that the State prove his guilt and that the State could not force him to testify at the trial.

7. I know that Zimmerman availed himself of the right against self-incrimination even though it appears that he is the only living person on the planet who actually knows what happened that evening.

8. I know that six people selected by the State of Florida and by Zimmerman’s lawyers heard and saw all of the evidence a seasoned trial judge permitted them to hear and see. I have no reason to believe that these six women jurors did not take their responsibilities very seriously.

9. I know that these six jurors found Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder or manslaughter.

10. I know that jurors usually – not always, but usually – get it right.

11. I know that these jurors know more about the evidence in the case that the "legal commentators" who litter the airwaves and the Internet. They also know more about the evidence than the writer of this post.

12. I know that many of my friends who believe that Zimmerman was guilty of murder will have difficulty accepting the jury’s verdict. I ask them to recall that they did not hear and see all of the evidence that the jurors did and that, even if the Truth is that the jury was wrong, there is no reason to believe that jurors were motivated by anything other than a desire to follow the law and do what was right.

13. I know that many of my friends who believe that Zimmerman was innocent will celebrate this verdict. I have no problem with that – as I said above, there is no reason to believe that these jurors were motivated by anything other than a desire to follow the law and do the right thing. I ask these friends to have the same respect for the jury system when they hear or read about a jury verdict with which they disagree as they do when they agree with the verdict.

14. And, I believe (but do not know) that if the jury got it wrong Zimmerman will be punished for his actions every day and every night for the rest of his life – and beyond.

Do you agree? Would you still agree if I had written a similar post but Zimmerman had been convicted? Because I would have written a similar post (changing Paragraph 9 and 14 and slight modifications to 12 and 13) if Zimmerman had been convicted.

The true test for belief in the jury system is not whether you support the jury’s verdict when it happens to agree with your opinion but whether you support the verdict when it is inconsistent with your opinion. It is a willingness to subordinate your view of the "evidence" ("facts" obtained from the media, filtered through your personal biases and prejudices), to that of a group of citizens chosen to serve as judges of the facts and trying their best to apply those facts to the law given to them by a trial judge. It is the willingness to accept the notion that, although jurors and judges and human beings and thus imperfect, our jury system still works pretty dang well and far better than any alternative system on this Earth of determining "Truth."

Does this mean that the system needs no improvement? No. Does it mean that some of our laws do not need modification? No. Does it mean we should continue to tinker with procedural and substantive law to help us get closer and closer to the Truth? Should the jury verdict in this case contribute to a national conversation about some of our laws? Yes. But, in the meantime, let us celebrate the wisdom of the founders of this country to mandate the right to trial by jury and continue to support that unfettered right in both criminal and civil courts across the country.

Now, on the civil side: Martin’s family may or may not file a civil suit against Zimmerman. Reportedly, a civil suit has been settled with the homeowner’s association. A civil case would involve a lower burden of proof (preponderance of the evidence vs. beyond a reasonable doubt) and could result in a different outcome (as it did in the O.J. Simpson matter.)

Would I take that case? I doubt it, based on the information I know (which I concede is limited to accounts in the popular press, hardly a reliable source). Even though Florida civil trials require a less-than-unanimous verdict, the lack of any evidence over who started the physical altercation and who what went on during the physical altercation makes this a tough case, in my opinion. Potential game-changer – the testimony of Zimmerman, who would be required to give testimony in a civil trial. I would want to carefully examine all of Zimmerman’s previous statements about this matter, determine the number and materiality of the inconsistencies, and then weigh the likelihood of developing other material inconsistencies if he were forced to testify.  Making such a decision is complicated, and will be delayed, by the Justice Department’s investigation and the possibility of federal criminal charges.