Yesterday as word that George Zimmerman was found not guilty for the murder of Trayvon Martin reached me, I felt…..still…..I didn’t have words. There are so many nameless emotions that humans can experience and tonight it seemed as if so many of those pulsed through my veins. What do you call more than sad, more than disappointed, more than mad, more than let down. So many emotions all at once that numb is really the word. It brought me immediately back to the Casey Anthony trial. That case hit home for me because I too was a single mother, I had a daughter the same age and our daughters even shared the same name, Kaily/Caylee. I remember sitting in disbelief when they read the Anthony verdict, and again yesterday though not as stunned, perhaps due to the growing consistency of inequity in our judicial system, I was equally as hurt to know that a child is gone and no one will pay the price.
The first thing I did was silently look across the room at my boyfriend’s fourteen year old son and naturally the what if’s began rolling. How can the parents ever move on in life with a tragic ending to their son’s story. I also thought of my best friend’s nine year old boy who is fast approaching his teen years. What does this verdict tell our children about race, about justice, about rights, about this country? This country has progressed over the past 200 years and so many steps have been taken towards equality, but days like this undermine our progress, knock the wind out of our hope for our children’s futures and spit in the face of so many great leaders both famous and many whose names you will never know and who have worked diligently for the advancement of equality and progression.
Once the initial sting of the verdict wore off, the lawyer in me began to analyze. I did not follow this case closely like I did the Anthony trial; however, some of the same thoughts crossed my mind. Though the facts of the case show racial motivation the procedural and legal nuances seem to have had the most effect on the outcome. You see the most difficult thing to digest especially as a young lawyer is understanding the different nuances and intricacies of the human language. Semantics plays far more of a role than I ever anticipated. For example, in each case you must know the difference between innocence and not guilty and actual guilt vs. legal guilt. Innocence being the complete lack of guilt and not guilty meaning the burden of proof has not been met beyond a reasonable doubt. Here there is a dead child…..innocent was never on the table. So we knew the verdict would be guilty or not guilty. That doesn’t seem too difficult to analyze but things get more complicated when we analyze actual guilt and legal guilt. Too many times in our justice system actual guilt doesn’t matter. It’s what they can or cannot prove and the truth gets lost.
I think this case, like the Anthony case should weigh heavy on the hearts of the prosecution. They simply did not get the job done. Each law is made up of elements and the prosecution MUST prove each element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. That is the burden of proof set forth by our founders. Granted it is a high burden and this was done intentionally ironically to protect the citizens. Sir William Blackstone famously said “It is better for ten guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to suffer”.
Could this have been what he meant? It is better that a man who killed an unarmed teen should go free because we cannot legally prove every element of a man made statute. I don’t think so. The concept and ideology of Blackstone is wise, beyond his years and an intricate theory of law, but the cases of late, especially those coming out of Florida cause me to wonder……could it be possible to overprotect the rights of a citizen? Have we made our legal system so difficult to navigate that now murderers have such protection under the law it is almost impossible to convict? How many times will we watch children be killed and watch the accused walk out of the court room. First Casey Anthony and now George Zimmerman. The system is failing in that regard.
The legal system will never be 100%. Guilty people will walk and not guilty people will go to jail. That is certain; however, a system of justice SHOULD be so effective that it gets the correct outcome most of the time. In the past I have believed our system accomplishes this outcome. At one point in our history we desperately needed laws and rights to protect American citizens against unjust prosecution. These have been important and imperative. However increasingly, I am beginning to wonder if perhaps the procedures and protections that make up the rights afforded to a person in custody have become so overly protective that in affording those rights we hinder the pursuit of the exact justice we set forth to protect.
Lastly, I also wonder if the definition of reasonable doubt was explained thoroughly. It is not a simple concept. It wasn’t until I went to law school that I understood what a jury charge was and the definitions of so many legal terms of art we throw around daily. Did the jury know that some doubt is not reasonable doubt? If you have SOME DOUBT you can still convict. Not every questionable call casts REASONABLE DOUBT.
Perhaps at some point there will be solace in knowing that though he walked out of the courtroom a free man he is not free. That day is not today though. The anger the country feels is too raw. But, Zimmerman's life is effectively over no matter what. He will not live as he did before. He will be subjected to the harsh reality of a world that hates him for the rest of his life. Whether he feels personal guilt or not the stress and pressure of living in a world against you will eat away at his life until he cannot continue and on that day when he stands before God, the ultimate Judge, HE shall decide the eternal fate of Zimmerman.