Well, I held off as long as I could on opining over the Zimmerman Trial. I wanted to wait until the evidence was in to form an opinion. I have represented people (and children, namely Nate Abraham) accused of murder and I am acutely aware of the “presumption of guilt”. I am not referring to the Constitutional right to a presumption of innocence – a vital right that may be the most violated right of all. People automatically assume a criminal suspect has done something, with the rare exceptions of white suspects whose case has been amplified to social significance by the media. Like Zimmerman. This is why the media and the Defense put Trayvon Martin on trial as well.
It’s a natural bias we all share and one every attorney has to deal with. Whenever I drive along a highway and see a policeman searching a car they have pulled over I don’t think “Gee, I wonder what that guy is presumed innocent of doing…” We all tend to assume that they must have done something to justify police action. This is because we give police the benefit of the doubt out of a natural bias. We all NEED police that are honest and trustworthy, and because we need to trust police we tend to give them that benefit of doubt. Except those of us attorneys who have seen countless arbitrary and illegal actions by a relatively few, dangerous officers know better.
As protective as I am about the presumption of innocence, I also know the emotional power of bigotry, and in cases involving race it often controls the outcome. I think the evidence proved the case of second degree murder. It certainly proved the lesser charge of manslaughter. Yet, justice wasn’t done in the Martin case partly because of one significant piece of evidence allowed into the trial: the fact that Martin had trace marijuana in his body at the time of death. Of course, trace amounts would not affect anyone’s behavior to any noticeable degree, and even if it did, marijuana would lessen any propensity for violence and reduce reaction times, muscle strength and energy. The problem with the ruling to include this evidence was that it was clearly more prejudicial than probative – it fits perfectly with the most racist and frightening stereotypes of young African-American men: wandering the streets high on drugs and violent. Can a jury of nearly all white women overcome this bias and look at the evidence objectively?
I trust the jury system. I also know it is flawed and reflective of the prejudices which pervade our land.