Share |

The Zimmerman Trial

Jul 15, 2013

Carrying a gun, like driving a car, involves a very heavy moral and legal responsibility. Carelessness and error can have grave consequences for which the person is liable. This responsibility is heavier still when a private individual draws a weapon to defend himself or someone else. If someone is armed and observes a school shooting about to happen, what should he do? Most of us would say he should stop it if he can, even if it means firing the gun. If, however, he has misinterpreted the situation or injures a bystander, he must know that he will bear the responsibility for that.

When George Zimmerman set out on foot, armed, to follow Trayvon Martin, a young man who was not engaged in any criminal activity, it resulted in a violent confrontation and the death of Martin. It seems to me that Zimmerman should have been held criminally responsible for his behavior. Firing “a warning shot” or even pointing a weapon at someone (say, a police officer) can land you in the slammer, while falling well short of murder.

That said, there is a very good reason why Florida police did not initially charge Zimmerman with murder or manslaughter. They had no case. Once the story became racially charged, political pressures led to a special prosecutor and a charge of second-degree murder. The affidavit on which the charge was brought excluded exculpatory evidence in Zimmerman’s favor, something that is ethically and legally suspect. That the special prosecutor was inclined to such mischief supports the original decision not to bring charges.

Zimmerman claimed that he shot Martin in self defense. It doesn’t matter that Zimmerman was the initial aggressor. If Martin responded to Zimmerman’s non-deadly aggression with deadly force, Zimmerman was entitled to defend himself with the same. According to eyewitness accounts, Martin was on top of Zimmerman, beating him “mixed martial arts style,” when Zimmerman fired his weapon. Zimmerman sustained injuries to the back of his head.

It was the responsibility of the prosecution to refute the claim of self defense. To do that, they would have had to convince the jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Zimmerman did not believe that he was in danger of serious injury or death when he used deadly force to defend himself.

That is the question that the jury was instructed to answer. It was not whether Zimmerman was a racist or whether he profiled Martin. It was not whether Zimmerman might have shot Martin with some kind of criminal intent. To convict Zimmerman, they would have had to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that he was not acting in self-defense. Presented with the evidence mentioned above, a responsible jury could hardly have reached such a conclusion and this one did not.

If you think that Trayvon Martin was an innocent victim, you will certainly be disappointed by the verdict. Some voices in the media are now declaring that it is now “open season on black boys.” There will probably be calls for reforming our criminal statutes to make sure that the next George Zimmerman cannot escape. While such reactions are understandable, it might be a good idea to take a breath and ask what that will mean. Who will it benefit and who will it injure if we make it easier to convict young men, African American or otherwise, of murder? Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. 


Editor's Note: Ken Blanchard is our political columnist from the right. For a left-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Cory Heidelberger every other Wednesday on this site.

Dr. Ken Blanchard is a professor of Political Science at Northern State University and writes for the Aberdeen American News and the blog South Dakota Politics.


12:13 pm - Mon, July 15 2013
dave tunge said:
Accurate post Ken. If lady justice is truly blind our legal system works as designed most of the time. It is when politics, screams of racial overtones, and that forever present, rating hungry media become involved that obscures the true facts of the case.
For our president to say that "if I had a son he would look just like Travon Martin" is a tragic abuse of his power and authority. For the governor to call in a "special" prosecutorial team is a response to more political pressure. And for the prosecution head to fire an employee for telling the truth regarding undeclared evidence to the defense team is yet another disregard for finding the real facts of the case.
But the biggest shocker of this entire proceeding is the noticeable lack of presence by Jackson and Sharpton. C'mon guys, you're missing a golden opportunity here.
04:45 pm - Mon, July 15 2013
larry kurtz said:
You should be lauded for a great post diverting attention from South Dakota news, Ken. Hope you can get out the state for a little while, it will do you some good.


"In the case of Christopher Capps, who in May of 2010 was shot numerous times by Pennington County Sheriff’s Deputy David Olson, questions as to the procedures followed by law enforcement officers of all agencies rose to the fore. Capps, 22, who was planning a move to college in Vermillion, was unarmed at the time of his shooting death."
09:59 pm - Mon, July 15 2013
Dave: I think that it was unwise for the President to interject himself into story at an early stage. I would not call it an abuse of power. On the other hand, his remarks after the verdict and those of the Attorney General strike me as reasonable and appropriate.

The decision of the State's Attorney of Florida to push for a trial in response to political pressure is another thing.
02:03 pm - Fri, July 19 2013
dave tunge said:
After the president weighed in today on the Zimmerman trial do you still feel his remarks are appropriate?
We all need to honestly ask ourselves if Obama's words and actions would be the same if it were a white kid.

Share your thoughts, post a comment to this story:

Your Name:
Your Email Address:  
Your Website:
2000 characters remaining
Web Design by Buildable