“The court doesn’t exist to give them justice… But to give them a chance at justice.”
-Galvin (Paul Newman), The Verdict
America suffers from superficial assumptions about not only our criminal laws, but the details of individual cases. We base our “knowledge” on headlines and soundbites, a thin stream of ignorance for evaluating someone’s guilt or innocence. We forget that the jury is sequestered away from the news, and that we in the public have different information than what the jury hears. Even the same information is expressed differently to juries. Our view of a trial from the outside is a watered down, over-simplified and twisted mess that bears little resemblance to the environment where these important decisions are made. As sad as I am about the entire case, I’m grateful we don’t let our emotional, thoughtless mob at large decide much of anything.
I’ve seen dozens of proclamations for what the Zimmerman verdict means, as if the entire 300+ million citizenry of America (or the 1000 people running the show if you believe in conspiracy theories) met together in Florida and agreed on a plan for how to ruin our nation through a single decision. Perhaps the most glaring oversight in our outrage is that a jury trial puts the burden of judgement into a handful of people. The six or twelve members of a jury are alone empowered to judge, which explains why most lawyers, victims and accused criminals avoid them (only 10% of cases go to trial, which, against my point, could also indicate something is wrong with our system). Whatever was wrong with America before the trial was wrong regardless of the outcome of this case. And unless those six people are a secret cabal running our nation, they never had the power to change America at large no matter what they decided.
Before you judge me and the tone of this post, if it matters, I think Zimmerman should have been charged at least with manslaughter. But what I think is irrelevant. as I was not on that jury. That’s my point.
There is no law that can guarantee everyone, or even a majority’s, sense of justice will be carried out. Instead we have laws that attempt to do the heavy lifting in providing a machine that gives everyone a chance at justice. A chance to make their case. And it’s not about what you know or believe but what you can prove to the satisfaction of the members of the jury. This means skill is a critical. It’s not the most righteous who wins, it’s who has the most skill in proving righteousness to the satisfaction of the jury. Is this fair? No. But it is clear.
If you read even a cursory critique of the prosecutions case against Zimmerman you’ll find reasonable questions about the actual evidence in the case, and how the prosecution used, or didn’t use it. Forget whether you agree with this critique or not, the outcome of the case means the jury likely did agree with some of it, and that’s all that matters.
In America we believe in reasonable doubt, and what a burden it is against immediate justice. Reasonable doubt means the job is on the prosecution to prove guilt, not on the defendant to prove innocence. The defense has the much easier job. Even the presentation of conflicting evidence and testimony can quickly create reasonable doubt on a jury, and there was plenty of conflicting testimony in the Zimmerman trial.
Reasonable doubt is unfair because it puts the prosecution at a disadvantage, but it’s unfair by design. Reasonable doubt prefers to let some accused people go free at the expense of preventing the innocent from being sent to prison. Reasonable doubt has its problems but it’s objective is clear, and it has been part of our legal system since its beginnings. It bets the sacrifice of justice of some guilty going free is more than compensated by preventing the innocent from being found guilty. Even if you don’t agree this is as good bet, it is the bet we have.
I am aware of the deep problems with racism, guns and crime in America. I understand why people feel outraged by the verdict and I feel sadness for everyone personally involved. But I won’t let one decision decided by six Florida citizens define much of anything for me or my country. I wish most of all for us to use our brains as much as our hearts in sorting our what the verdict means and what work we have to do to make our nation safe for everyone.