Courting Justice: A Trial Lawyer’s View Of The George Zimmerman Verdict

July 15, 2013

By Robert N. Hunn

It seems that everyone, and their first cousin, is tweeting, blogging, posting or otherwise giving their opinion on the not guilty verdict rendered in the George Zimmerman trial. I always find it interesting that people with no legal background, who did not listen to the actual evidence presented at trial, feel they are in the best position to either attack or support a jury’s verdict.

From everything I’ve read it looks like 95% of the country is angry with the jury’s verdict (I have to assume that the 5% that supports the verdict is made up of the NRA’s gold club membership). Since I’ve been trying cases in front of juries for over three decades, I’ve learned that I need to read the trial transcript before I can ever formulate an opinion on the righteousness of a jury’s decision. But here is what I think I can opine on even without having read the transcript.

In our legal system, a jury either finds that you are “guilty” or “not guilty” of a crime. The one thing a jury never does is find whether a defendant is “innocent.” The jury in the Zimmerman trial did not find George Zimmerman innocent. Instead, they found that under the law of the State of Florida, and the facts of the case as presented at trial, the prosecution did not prove that Zimmerman was guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

So let’s ask the question this way: “How in the world can an adult not be guilty of some form of a crime when he shoots with his own gun an unarmed teenager because he is losing a fist fight?” The answer: Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute. This law makes it legal to meet force with, at times, deadly force, when a person reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.

My problem with this law is that its reach is overbroad and it is too subjective. I am no fan of guns but if you want to stand your ground when your house is being broken into by a burglar with a gun, I can live with. But, there are so many different ways that people can get into a fight, under so many different circumstances, that this law should not be applicable to every situation where a disagreement can lead to a fight which, in turn, can lead to tragic consequences. I think the Stand Your Ground law is too broad in its scope and should only apply to a narrow set of circumstances. One set of circumstances it should not apply to is the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman tragedy.

In my mind, it was the Stand Your Ground law that made for a not guilty verdict when an adult shoots an unarmed teenager because he was losing a fist fight. Not guilty does not mean innocent.