Sunday, July 14, 2013

Not Guilty?


I just learned that George Zimmerman is not guilty in the slaying of Trayvon Martin. I can’t say I was surprised, but I am deeply troubled by this verdict. How could Mr. Zimmerman be anything but guilty? He got out of his car when the police told him to stay in his car. He went after the boy when the police told him not to do so. He provoked the situation and then used it to defend his shooting of Mr. Martin. Had he done what police told him to do—stay in his car—none of this would have happened. Does he bear no responsibility?

The problem may be that the prosecution didn’t allow the jury to consider a lesser charge like aggravated assault that they might have gone with. Or it may be that the thought of a black teenager in a hoodie was scary enough to the jury to acquit Mr. Zimmerman regardless of the charge.

This is why I don’t trust the jury system. The notion that a jury trial is a trial by one’s peers is absurd. The knock-knock joke at the beginning of the defense’s opening argument was telling: you are on the jury because you are ignorant of the entire case. What qualifies you for jury duty is not your intelligence but your ignorance. This is why jury trials are more theater than a search for truth, with lawyers on both sides playing to the jury’s emotions rather than their reason. And why they make for compelling TV on Cable News.

I suggest we create a new legal profession: licensed jurors. Licensed jurors would have to earn a Masters Degree in “Jury Duty” that would include the study of police procedures, forensics, crime scene investigation, and the law. They would be taught how to identify and stay immune to courtroom theatrics and emotional manipulation. Pools of licensed jurors would be maintained, with jurors be assigned cased by rotation. Having intelligent, trained, people on the jury who could weigh the evidence and assess the quality of the cases would force attorneys on both sides to leave aside the theatrics and focus on finding the truth.

But truth is never the point of a jury trial. Winning is. That’s why so much coverage of the case is presented like a sporting event. Mr. Zimmerman is free not because he is innocent, but because his team played the better game. It is time we changed the game.

18 comments:

thesycamoretree said...

As a person who has been a foreman on a jury responsible for deciding the guilt or innocence of two men with multiple charges, I have to disagree with you calling all jurors ignorant. Sure, there may be some who know more about sitcoms than laws, but it is the prosecutor's responsibility to educate them as he presents his case. Had I been on the Zimmerman jury, I would not have convicted him on the count of second degree murder because the conflicting evidence created a reasonable doubt. But I'm in agreement with you that the jury would probably would have agreed on a lesser charge. Even with the conflicting stories, the fact that he continued to follow and confront the young man leads me to think he was guilty of at least aggravated assault and probably manslaughter as well.

Erick Reynolds said...

I agree with Rabbi Rami and support his idea of professional juries. I think the point on ignorance was the more high profile the case, with this shrinking world and expanding media, the deeper into the ignorance pool you have to dive to find someone unaware of the case. That does not bode well for a well adjusted peer group.

Aron said...

I admit I didn't follow the trial, but how important was the whole "Stand your ground" statute to this whole case? It sounds like you can execute nearly anyone if you're successful in killing them, since they won't be able to give their side of the story. All you seem to have to say is that you felt threatened.

Mordechai Ben Nathan said...

Your analysis shows ignorance of our legal justice system on so many levels. You say a "jury decides guilt or innocence." That is completely WRONG.

A jury decides whether a person is guilty or whether that person is not guilty. There is no space on the verdict form for something called "innocent." All verdict forms in the 50 states and the federal government have a space marked guilty and not guilty.

"Not Guilty" absolutely is NOT a euphemism for "innocent". It means only that the state failed to prove guilt.

The burden is always upon the state to prove a defendant guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. The defendant is not required to prove that he is "innocent". Nor is it the burden of the state to prove that the defendant is not innocent.

Our justice system has been created this way because it is supposed to be difficult to put a man in a cage for the rest of his life. The judiciary in the words of James Madison (as he explained it in the Federalist Papers) is to be independent of the ill humors of the public.

The irony of your post is this: while you intimate that the jury is ignorant in fact you are ignorant, apparently operating under confusion or delusion thinking yourself so erudite others not rising to your level of expertise.

There are so many other examples of problems in your post which I will explain at a later time so that the few readers of your blog will not be misled.

Mordechai Ben Nathan said...

Aron:

Unlike Rami, your analysis hits the nail on the head. Florida has a Stand Your Ground law which is extremely controversial.

This law was enacted several years ago. As a consequence of the Stand Your Ground law, individuals do not have a duty to retreat. The problem here, as I see it, is with the Stand Your Ground law and not with the jury.

The jury was given a stand your ground jury instruction which it is required to follow irrespective of their own personal beliefs and feelings.

The jury would also be given a self defense jury instruction. The self defense jury instruction would require the state to prove that the defendant did not act in self defense. Moreover the state would have to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt.

One can see how extremely difficult it would be for the state to prove that the defendant did not act in self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Stand Your Ground jury instruction combined with the self defense instruction would make it extremely difficult for the state to prove Zimmerman guilty beyond to the exclusion of any reasonable doubt.

Of course Rami does not seem to understand any of this. Rather he likes to attack people and their supposed ignorance while seeking to substitute his defective judgment for the good judgment of the framers of the Constitution and that of our founding fathers.

I am not happy with the Stand Your Ground law. But the jury was intelligent jury and not ignorant. It properly applied the jury instructions to the evidence.

It may well be that Zimmerman is a racist, that he bears responsibility, that he acted precipitously, that he is a jerk and any other adjective we wish to place upon him. However there is a difference between a finding of guilt and the emotional feelings that you might have.



Mordechai Ben Nathan said...

Rami says: "you are on the jury because of your ignorance of the entire case." Then he proceeds to say that what is wanted is ignorance and not intelligence.

It is axiomatic and a truism that lawyers want people who are ignorant of the case because lawyers do not want individuals who have a preconceived notion about the case or who have been influenced by other people.

A person who is ignorant about the case simply means he doesn't know about the case. It does not mean that he/she is stupid or unintelligent.

It is precisely for this reason that lawyers often move for a change of venue when too many people within a city would know about a well publicized case.

Rami conflates ignorance about the case with a lack of intelligence. He probably knows nothing about the jurors but he seems to be convinced they are stupid presumably he would find them "smart" if they found Zimmerman guilty.

During voire dire (picking the jury) lawyers always ask the jury panel if they know about the case. Many in the jury panel are registered nurses, accountants, or other educated people. I can say from experience that intelligent jurors are often preferred and lawyers are generally not looking for unintelligent jurors.

Rotten Arsenal said...

Mordechai... you completely missed Rami's point. He isn't calling anyone stupid. He is simply saying that no matter how intelligent someone might be, lawyers want people that would appear to have as little pre-trial knowledge of the case as possible. An astrophysicist who has never heard of Zimmerman would be preferable to a high school drop out who watches cable news all day.
But, as is also Rami's point, lawyers look for people they can emotionally manipulate. That's why there are jury consultants as well. It is a game in many ways and the goal is to win. And getting a jury of people that you don't have to unconvince of their prior opinions us step 1.

Mordechai Ben Nathan said...

No Rami misses the point. A jury is supposed to be ignorant about the case. He writes "what qualifies you for jury duty is not your intelligence but your ignorance."

Rotten Arsenal said...

Again, you are misunderstanding. "what qualifies you for jury duty is not your intelligence but your ignorance" does not mean he thinks they are stupid. He could have spelled it out for his readers by adding "(of this court case)." I'm guessing, though, that Rami thinks enough of his readers to not spell out every little detail.
Additionally, and this might be even more imporyant, "ignorant" does not mean the same thing as "stupid." Ignorant simply means somebody has no frame of reference or knowledge of something. Stupid means somebody had been exposed to knowledge and dies not understand it, resulting in that person incorrectly applying that information.

Mordechai Ben Nathan said...

Rotten:

You fail to read the clear words of Rami. He writes: " how could Zimmerman be anything but guilty?" His discussion of the ignorance of the jury must be read in pari-materia with his uninformed views. He then continues with the radical notion that the jury system must now be deconstructed. Any fair reading of this post reveals the author's astonishment that a jury could find Zimmerman not guilty. Consequently the implication can be none other than the jury is ignorant in the stupid sense. Your forced construction of the neaning of the post fails to evaluate it contextually.

Mordechai Ben Nathan said...

Rotten:

You fail to read the clear words of Rami. He writes: " how could Zimmerman be anything but guilty?" His discussion of the ignorance of the jury must be read in pari-materia with his uninformed views. He then continues with the radical notion that the jury system must now be deconstructed. Any fair reading of this post reveals the author's astonishment that a jury could find Zimmerman not guilty. Consequently the implication can be none other than the jury is ignorant in the stupid sense. Your forced construction of the neaning of the post fails to evaluate it contextually.

eashtov said...

Shalom All,

Rabbi Rami wrote: "The notion that a jury trial is a trial by one’s peers is absurd."

Let's remember that it was Zimmerman who was entitled to a jury of his peers, as he and NOT Trayvon Martin was on trial.

Biv'racha,
Jordan

Mordechai Ben Nathan said...

And why exactly does the great Rami believe it was not a jury of his peers? The constitution requires membrrs of the community in good standing.

Rabbi Rami said...

I love the passion. Sadly only Erick took up my point which wasn't about GZ or TM but the idea of a professionally trained and licensed jury. People could go to law school to major in one or another kind of law and then join the pool from which jurors could be chosen. I think I first read this in Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein. Maybe not the best source for such an idea, but it was the idea I hoped we would discuss.

As for the ignorance of the jurors I did not mean they were ignorant people, only that they were ignorant of the case. This is what the defense implied in the opening Knock-Knock joke of their opening remarks.

Mordecai is right that you choose guilty or not guilty. Not guilty is not the same as innocent. Very good point.

Dennis Attarian said...

Dont know why this case turned you against the jury system. The DA admitted she should have went for a lesser charge. Toward the end of the trial the pundits were all saying they expected acquittal. As the trial was unfolding it became obvious that the prosecution didn't have a case for murder. This in no way shows the jury as being incompetent. The DA yes, the prosecuting attorneys, perhaps. But the jury did quite well according to the pundits that were on top of this trial.

Mordechai Ben Nathan said...

Dennis Attaria:

Bravo for a non-emotional proper and sober eval. The only point about lessers is that there are in Florida mandatory and nonmandatory lessers. Self defense ir justifiable homicide would be a defense in all homicides. The issue would be the concept of "imperfect self defense" which holds that the self defense went beyond what was called for. That is usually purely a jury question except for 1st degree murder where "imperfect self defense" is not recognized (see HILL V STATE)

Dennis Attarian said...

Thanks Rabbi Mordechai- Didnt know all that.

Mordechai Ben Nathan said...

Not a Rabbi. I am a criminal defense attorney.,. But that does not make my opinion correct.

Usually if you take the opposite opinion of Rami you will more than likely be correct