In the wake of the not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin murder trial, a whirlwind of intense emotions have been flowing from all sides.
In fact, this case has generated strong reaction from the very beginning, with some of the loudest voices espousing the desire for Zimmerman, the accused killer, to be found guilty and imprisoned.
That he was found not guilty, our Broward felony defense lawyers believe, is a testament to the fact that the justice system did not bow to outside pressure. One juror was even quoted as saying that she did not realize their was such a firestorm of controversy around the case until after she and the five other jurors had decided it. Regardless of whether you agree with their decision, that is the way it should be.
Florida has a reputation for crimes that are odd or sensational or draw a significant amount of attention. Just look at former justice reporter Craig Pittman’s Slate.com blog, entitled “Oh, #Florida!” This is the home of acquitted child murderer Casey Anthony, now-deceased “face-eater” Rudy Eugene and the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy.
But no matter how horrific a crime might be, we can’t allow emotions to seep into the courtroom when it comes to a determination of guilt or innocence. To do so would be to compromise the very foundation of our criminal justice system.
In the Zimmerman case, you had a 26-year-old, white-Hispanic male, a neighborhood watch volunteer, who was suspicious of a 17-year-old black male teenager walking through a gated community at night. Neither one knew the other. Zimmerman contacted police, who told him to back off. Zimmerman got out of the vehicle, reportedly to check the address. At that point, he was allegedly attacked by Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman said he fired his weapon at Martin in self-defense.
As it later turned out, Martin was returning to his father’s residence in the complex after going to the store to buy some candy. He was unarmed.
Initially, police did not arrest Zimmerman on the basis of the Stand Your Ground Law, which holds that Floridians are allowed to meet force with force, with no obligation to retreat. Outcry from the public resulted in a special prosecutor being assigned to investigate the case. The decision was subsequently made to charge Zimmerman with second-degree murder.
There is some speculation as to whether the prosecutors charged Zimmerman improperly, and whether they should have instead gone with the more easily proven involuntary manslaughter charge.
We certainly understand why the case was rife with controversy. However, strictly from a defense attorney standpoint, the verdict was correct. There were many who believed Zimmerman should have been held accountable somehow, particularly given the fact that he was the one who followed Martin, even though he was advised by police to stop. However, Zimmerman was not legally bound by police advise and what’s more, a claim of self-defense is not negated when a person follows someone else.
The jury followed the instructions given to the letter of the law. At the end of the day, the state failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.