Two Steps Back: Why you shouldn’t extrapolate on the Zimmerman verdict

The trial of George Zimmerman sought to decide one central question: was Mr. Zimmerman guilty of the charges brought against him by the state prosecution?

George Zimmerman

The jury decided that Mr. Zimmerman was not guilty of either murder in the second degree or manslaughter, as spelled out in the Florida penal code. That is the end of the story as far as the facts of this trial are concerned.

Was George Zimmerman guilty of manslaughter? No.

Was George Zimmerman guilty of racial profiling? Was he guilty of being hot headed? Not heeding the advice of the police officer with whom he spoke on the phone? Indiscretion? Perhaps. But it is not the role of the justice system in this country nor the jurors or judge or lawyers in that case to act outside the scope of the law, and to bring unrelated facets of any of these latter questions into the debate over the first.

Those with 20/20 hindsight and a self-proclaimed law degree have decried on the likes of Facebook to no end about how the lack of conviction in this case influences the civil rights and race inequality in this country. What those individuals do not understand is how the two issues are nearly unrelated. Racial profiling or motivations should not affect a jury’s verdict when the law does not mention it, and to incorporate such motivations into your decision where the penal code does not specify is inappropriate.

For those who are unclear about how our justice system works: Unless the prosecution is able to establish a sufficient “burden of proof” such as to resolve beyond a reasonable doubt the possibility that the defendant is innocent, the jury is to return a verdict of “Not Guilty.” Despite what circumstantial or other evidence the prosecution presented, the only way to resolve a reasonable doubt in a case as complex and unclear as this is to know the thoughts and intentions within Mr. Zimmerman’s head. There is enough ambiguity within this case that no lawyer can resolve reasonable doubt. There is not enough evidence to meet the necessary burden of proof, and for the jury to return a guilty verdict in this case would have damning implications for our justice system.

There is no exception to the Florida penal code’s definition of manslaughter that adds, “and if the incident may have a racial motive and a supermajority of citizens of similar ethnicity to the deceased are outraged at the situation, then he is guilty.” Barring such racial related clause in the penal code, you cannot directly extract a racial bias from the outcome of the trial.

It is far worse, in the eyes of our legislature, to find an innocent man guilty than a guilty man innocent. For this reason, we say that a man is “innocent until proven guilty.” It seems to me that the protestors against this verdict wish to find a man guilty based on facts not relevant to the penal code. To do so would be a gross violation of individual’s rights and undermine the very purpose of our justice system: to give fair trial to every individual. As to best compromise, we have drawn a “line in the sand” so to speak when differentiating between innocence and guilt in our justice system. For no one particular case should we adjust it; that would not be fair.

You have every right to make the case that you don’t believe George Zimmerman is a just and moral man and that he behaved inappropriately, and for that matter I’m sure he feels deep regret for what he did–it was a terrible and tragic event. You have every right to question the validity and appropriateness of Florida’s laws as written. But for a person to protest the jury’s decision in this trial, the facts and evidence being what they are, simply states that that person does not understand how the justice system works in this country nor the particular wording of the penal code bearing influence. To pull racial context out of this verdict is to look for meaning where it does not exist.

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