I don’t think I was shocked by the verdict. Usually, by the end of opening statements experienced attorneys can predict, with reasonable certainty, the outcome of the trial. If you are heavily emotionally involved with the Zimmerman case, this article is not for you. But I’ve been asked so many times what happened, that I would be wrong if I didn’t discuss, at least from a trial-work and rhetorical point of view what happened, so here you go (click more):
What Happened in the Zimmerman Trial?
LET’S START ON THE SAME PAGE
The important thing to remember is that the outcome of any criminal jury trial is the meeting of two things: Law And Facts. Judge gives the Law. Witnesses give the facts. Let’s look at how the two meet with a some diagrams:
In this case, in the diagram above in yellow is law. The “holes” in the above diagram are the accusations the Prosecutor makes of the Defendant. He states the Defendant commits these things (here identified as shapes), and must prove these things before the Defendant can be found guilty. The Legislature determines the law and the Judge enforces it, so those shapes do not change. Each and every shape must be filled.
Here are the facts represented in blue and green! The witnesses give the facts from the witness stand or through physical evidence, but while the legislature controls the law, they cannot control what evidence exists. The Prosecution’s job is basically to relay these facts so they fit into the law. A case that shows not guilty is here:
This is the diagram of of how the facts from a witness stand fit into a the law from the legislature. In this diagram, clearly at least one of the facts, the last fact “does not fit” with the underlying law. In this case, the jury has no option but to acquit the Defendant.
Then why do lawyers get paid?
But “The Prosecutor has no control over the law and no control over the facts” you ask me. “The law was decided by the legislature, explained by the judge, and the facts were decided whenever the incident happened” You point out correctly. “So what do lawyers do? Why do you always argue Prosecutors need a raise? How do Defense attorneys charge so much” you ask me. Clearly, because there’s more than one way to explain the law and the facts.
There’s different ability levels. Because there’s different outlooks and styles. Different people look at the same thing in different ways. More importantly people describe the same thing in different ways.
Imagine Listening to Eminem’s song at his concert, or at Karaoke when your white uncle sings. Different people can explain the same thing differently. The reason I use diagrams is, for me, I believe it makes it easier to explain. Another attorney might disagree and suggest that words alone would do a better job. Another may make the same argument using a video.
And an attorney’s job is to present the facts, and argue how they meet the law.
WHAT HAPPENED WITH ZIMMERMAN
All that was just the preface, in any case the prosecution has two jobs they have to perform in every case.
They have to:
- Show what happened that night.
- Explain that what happened matched the law.
In Zimmerman the prosecution clearly did not produce facts as to what happened. In this case, I don’t think the Florida Prosecutors ever got past step one. There was no way that the jury really understood the events of that night. It might’ve been impossible to explain.
What everybody in their gut feels that what happened that night was illegal, the problem is the prosecutor was not able to say what happened that night. If he is unable to say where people were, or when they did whatever they did, you never even get to the “was it illegal” question.
The easiest way to compare this is the old legal question of two men in a room with a gun and nobody else. No windows. No doors. Nobody can see or hear what happens but after one man walks out the other man is dead. Is it enough to say the person who’s laying on the ground is the victim of a crime since person in the room is now dead? The answer is absolutely not! The Prosecutor would still need to prove what happened, it’s not enough that there’s a dead body. The prosecutor needs to show, not only, that the other person caused the death but intentionally caused the death, and did not do it in self-defense.
But criminal cases in real life are very different from two people in a box. When it happens in public a lot of people can see. When a lot of people can see, we expect at least one person to see. The reason we want eyewitness evidence is because eyewitness evidence tells us what happened (ignore here all the problems with eyewitness evidence). In this case the prosecutors were unable to say:
- Who approached who first
- Who talked to who first
- Who said what to who first
- Who confronted the other first
- Who raised their voice first
- Who threw the first punch
These are all problems the prosecution had in this case. The biggest unfairness to Mr. Martin’s family is the idea that the prosecutors and the media seemed to tell them that this was going to be easy.
A side issue, still important
The other thing about this case was, with six female jurors, it was a “battle of the moms”. Is each juror more likely to want to protect Zimmerman or Trayvon? That was the implicit question in the trial. They answered.
The Ultimate Question
Which I don’t think even the attorneys on the case boiled it down to, is this:
No one argues that Zimmerman wasn’t legally allowed to get out of his car. And no one argues that he wasn’t allowed to legally walk in the same direction, or follow Trayvon. Everyone agrees he shouldn’t have done it, but no one says it’s illegal. And I don’t think anyone argues that he wasn’t allowed to holler out to Trayvon, or vice versa, that Trayvon wasn’t allowed to run away or to turn back and say “Why are you following me?” But what happened between Zimmerman getting out of his car and Trayvon getting killed, without better evidence than what we’ve been told is, unfortunately for the Martin family, reasonable doubt.[info_box_1 title=” “]
I remember when I was eight I had a conversation with a black kid in my class about when you were allowed to punch people. I was a toothchipper when I was eight, watch out. I told Thomas that you have to get hit first to defend yourself. Thomas said something like, “No way! If you think you’re going to get hit, my Dad says ‘Always hit first’, you never know if that first hit is going to break your face!” I dont’t know why but that conversation has always stayed with me. I think it was my father’s assumption that you could weather the first blow, and Thomas’ dad’s assumption that most street fights last exactly one good punch. [/info_box_1]
I always ask my jurors to assure me during jury selection that they’ll be comfortable feeling that my client may’ve been guilty, but still telling the judge “not guilty” because the juror didn’t know.
Unfortunately, no one got this assurance from the American people.
Zimmerman’s actions caused Trayvon Martin to die. Of that there’s no doubt. If Zimmerman stayed in the car Martin would still be alive. But is that enough to convict someone of murder? Of course not. And that is what the jury decided.
Later today I’ll update the blog to answer the question “what effects will this have on the legal system. Probably around 6:00 pm, Hawaii time.