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.