Law and Justice and George Zimmerman
Andrew Cohen in the Atlantic:
What the verdict says, to the astonishment of tens of millions of us, is that you can go looking for trouble in Florida, with a gun and a great deal of racial bias, and you can find that trouble, and you can act upon that trouble in a way that leaves a young man dead, and none of it guarantees that you will be convicted of a crime. But this curious result says as much about Florida’s judicial and legislative sensibilities as it does about Zimmerman’s conduct that night. This verdict would not have occurred in every state. It might not even have occurred in any other state. But it occurred here, a tragic confluence that leaves a young man’s untimely death unrequited under state law. Don’t like it? Lobby to change Florida’s laws.
If we understand and accept these legal limitations – and perhaps only if we do – the result here makes sense. Purely as a matter of law, you could say, it makes perfect sense. Florida’s material, admissible, relevant proof against Zimmerman was not strong enough to overcome the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The eye-witnesses (and ear-witnesses) did not present a uniformly compelling case against the defendant. The police witnesses, normally chalk for prosecutors, did not help as much as they typically do. Nor was there compelling physical evidence establishing that Zimmerman had murderous intent and was not acting in self-defense.
The case was “not about standing your ground; it was about staying in your car,” the prosecutor cogently said during closing argument. But in the end, under state law favorable to men like the defendant – that is, favorable to zealots willing to take the law into their own hands – Zimmerman’s series of deplorable choices that night did not amount to murderous intent or even the much more timid manslaughter. The defense here wisely understood that and was able consistently, methodically, to remind jurors that prosecutors had not adequately explained (or proved) how exactly the altercation started and how precisely it progressed.