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Criminal Justice

The Potential Downsides of Zimmerman Being Charged

George Zimmerman was charged with 2nd degree murder yesterday and the world rejoiced.

Ok, the world didn’t rejoice and I realize that I’m being a little harsh.  I’m relieved that the wishes of the family of  Trayvon Martin were fulfilled and that they will seemingly get their day in court.  Trying this case in the court of public opinion was getting counterproductive and, in some ways, exploitative as well, so perhaps that will also be a welcome change.

However, all that being said, this entire situation just doesn’t sit well in my stomach.  I can’t help but have flashbacks to the Duke Lacrosse team rape case from years back where the prosecutor overstepped in putting together his case as he grandstanded for the cameras and sought political and public approval, the law be damned.  Now is this what is happening in the Trayvon Martin case?  I can’t make that accusation.  But there are just a number of questions that arise which which give me pause…

  1. Why did the prosecutor, Angela Corey, not put the case before a grand jury?
  2. Why did her press conference come off as so political?
  3. Why did she (to my knowledge) only charge Zimmerman with 2nd degree murder and not include lesser charges for the jury to consider, like manslaughter, battery, etc.?

It’s this last question which is the most perplexing.  Either Corey is ridiculously confident that the state’s evidence has got Zimmerman by the cojones, or….or what?  Or this is window dressing by her and the state of  Florida to give the people what they asked for and arrest Zimmerman?  Or it’s CYA to put the case and the blame for a possible acquittal on the jury?  Or it’s an attempt to get Zimmerman to plead out to a lesser charge?

And this is really….reeeeeeaaaally important.  Because, for Trayvon’s family, it means whether they are getting a legitimate opportunity to see justice served for their son.  For society, it’s different, but, potentially the stakes are even higher (and potentially a lose / lose situation).

If Zimmerman is convicted, fairly based on the evidence or unfairly based on public pressure, I fear that, as this case has become increasingly personalized, people will be appeased by that fact alone and will forget that the very reason that this situation has even come to pass is because of…

  1. A ridiculous “Stand Your Ground” law that is still on the books
  2. Racial profiling which has not been addressed
  3. A tremendously strong gun lobby that has outsized influence over our electoral politics to the point that they are actually writing laws which  result in the US having the highest levels of gun ownership (and gun-related deaths) in the world.

That doesn’t mean Zimmerman shouldn’t be prosecuted.  He should.  And if he’s guilty, it goes without saying he should go to jail. That is the bare minimum of how this should be dealt with.  But it also means that it’s critical that his case is not the end of the activism on all of these issues if a similar situation is to be prevented again.

More problematic though is if the prosecutor has actually overstepped her boundaries to the point that Zimmerman gets off completely?  All hell could break loose.  And that would be really scary.  The flashpoint of a single guilty or not guilty verdict is infinitely more combustible than the decision to arrest and charge someone with a crime.  This is especially true when that flashpoint is enhanced by racial overtones as was seen with both the cases of Rodney King and OJ.  Therefore, I really do hope that in charging Zimmerman, Angela Corey has taken this into account.  As a result, I also hope that she has a rock solid case against Zimmerman for 2nd degree murder and that my questions related to her bringing charges are all unfounded.

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