The case of George Zimmerman, whom a Florida jury just acquitted in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, demonstrates that no matter how much anyone favors “law and order,” police and prosecutors cannot and should not abdicate their duty to uphold the law, even if someone deserving of punishment escapes what would be a just sanction as a result of their doing so.
It is a defense attorney’s job to see to it that his client gets the most zealous, legal, and ethical defense possible, to protect his client’s rights, and to ensure that the state doesn’t overreach (as it may have done in this case).
We would want a defense attorney to do all of these things for us if we were accused. Somehow, however, they become less important to us when someone we think is guilty is acquitted. But if defense attorneys fail to do these things, that simply increases the chance of a conviction being overturned on appeal.
Many feel that Zimmerman escaped justice. But we live in a country with “rule of law” and not “rule of men.” As such, it is at least as important (if not more so) to follow proper procedure when determining guilt, innocence, and sanction as it is to achieve a just result.
There are good reasons why the prosecution rarely gets more than “one bite at the apple.” But at least one (and perhaps more than one) appellate court may examine whatever issues the state raises very carefully. If it is warranted, the state may get another chance against Zimmerman.
Still, no matter how much anyone disagrees with the verdict in the Zimmerman case, the system to this point has functioned as it is designed to do: The prosecution has the burden of proving, to a jury’s satisfaction and beyond a reasonable doubt, that Zimmerman acted unlawfully in shooting Martin. In jurors’ minds, the prosecution failed to meet that burden.
While we might say we believe it’s better for a hundred guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be convicted, too many of us want to have our cake and eat it, too: If a jury reaches a verdict with which we disagree, many of us blame the very system whose protection we would demand if we were falsely accused (or if we believe there is insufficient evidence to convict us).
Many then take to the streets in protest, chanting such slogans as, “No justice, no peace!” What is justice? It is what we say it is. What is peace? Peace may be achieved by using the system to further whatever ends will keep us from rioting in the streets.
That sounds an awful lot like “rule of men” and not a whole lot like “rule of law” to me. As much as I understand why those who don’t believe that a just result was achieved in the Zimmerman case are frustrated, that’s not a country in which I think most of us would want to live.
Ken K. Gourdin, Tooele, is a certified paralegal. This column is not legal advice, and anyone needing such advice should contact a licensed attorney.