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Scales of justice are designed to tilt in the defendant’s favor

Published: Wed, July 17, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

It is not by accident that it is diffi- cult to convict someone in a criminal court in the United States. It’s supposed to be that way.

There are strong constitutional protections for any defendant, which include due process of law and the right against self incrimination.

And sometimes that means a judge and jury will set someone free in what the general public might consider a miscarriage of justice or in defiance of common sense. But the law requires that a criminal defendant be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, not in keeping with conventional wisdom.

And reasonable doubt goes a long way. Witness Casey Anthony, who was acquitted in the murder of her daughter by a Florida jury, or O.J. Simpson, acquitted by a California jury in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her companion, Ron Goldman. And now, George Zimmerman.

The cases have dramatic differences, but in each, a jury heard a filtered version of events from the defendant, through their lawyers. In each case the defendants availed themselves of the constitutional right to decline testifying, thus avoiding cross examination. And in each case the victim was unable to provide his or her version of events.

George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder, the charge behind which the prosecution put most of its energy, or the lesser charge of manslaughter, which was presented as little more than a default position.

Differing opinions

There are those, who like Zimmerman’s lawyer, Don West, believe it was “disgraceful” to prosecute Zimmerman for anything. And there are those who will dissect the various missteps of the prosecution and wonder what might have happened if prosecutors had not over-charged and had instead focused on the case for manslaughter.

No one knows when (or if) Zimmerman stopped becoming the stalker and became the stalked. No one but Zimmerman knows who threw the first punch. The men obviously fought and until Zimmerman pulled his gun and killed Martin he was obviously not faring well. But whose fault was that?

Zimmerman, visibly heavier today than he was the night of the confrontation, sat in the courtroom while his own attorneys made the case that he was a soft man with few athletic abilities who couldn‘t throw a punch. So why would a man who was so physically ill-equipped to confront any fit opponent feel compelled to stock a young man, except that he knew he was packing an equalizer?

Those who exonerated Zimmerman apparently accept that it was all right for him to put another person in fear for his safety and that the obligation of Trayvon Martin was to run for home like a frightened rabbit. To be sure, that would have been the better outcome for Martin. Just as it would have been the better outcome for Zimmerman if he had acted like a responsible neighborhood watchman instead of pretending he was the police officer he could never be.

The Department of Justice must necessarily take a look at whether Zimmerman violated Martin’s civil rights, but no evidence has yet been made public that would support pursuing the case in federal court.

Next step, civil court

The better course would be that taken by relatives of Simpson’s victims, a civil lawsuit. Simpson faced four hours of cross examination in his civil suit, and a jury found him to be a liar.

If Zimmerman is tested in that same crucible and found to have been telling the truth, the Florida jury of six women who found him not guilty will be seen as citizens of remarkable discernment and Zimmerman and his lawyers will be able to claim victimhood. And if Zimmerman is exposed during examination by the Martin family lawyers as a dissembler, the family will have the small consolation of seeing truth exposed.

In any case, a jury of six has spoken and George Zimmerman is not guilty of any criminal charge in the death of Trayvon Martin. As difficult as that might be for some people to accept, it is the law.

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