The Zimmerman Verdict

Was the verdict just?

I have no idea. I do know two things:

1) Six people who spent every day for a month intensely studying the evidence probably have a better chance of getting the right answer to the first question than I do; and

2) Most non-jurors who have a strong opinion as to whether Zimmerman was guilty or not probably formed it after about ten minutes of thought (if that), so I don't see why their opinion matters at all. For most of them, this opinion is simply a form of self-expression -- either, "I am a tough individualist who believes in the right to self-defense" or "I am for racial justice" -- and based on barely any study of the facts themselves.

8 comments:

  1. Did you watch the trial, Gene?

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  2. I claim complete ignorance.

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  3. Agree. This is exactly why I hate it when the media turns a case like this into a three-ring circus. It seems nearly everyone forms their own conclusions about the case, which they then defend fanatically as the Truth, despite basing their conclusions on secondhand reports, unreliable and incomplete evidence, sensationalist accounts, and sheer speculation. On the other hand, I can't really blame the media entirely -- they would not have devoted this much coverage to the trial if the public had not been clamoring for it and lapping it up. Consumer sovereignty and all that jazz.

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  4. Agree. This is exactly why I hate it when the media turns a case like this into a three-ring circus. It seems nearly everyone forms their own conclusions about the case, which they then defend fanatically as the Truth, despite basing their conclusions on secondhand reports, unreliable and incomplete evidence, sensationalist accounts, and sheer speculation. On the other hand, I can't really blame the media entirely -- they would not have devoted this much coverage to the trial if the public had not been clamoring for it and lapping it up. Consumer sovereignty and all that jazz.

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  5. My outrage was that they didn't take him in. For the reasons you state here I can't really be outraged at the verdict. I do have a sneaking suspicion I SHOULD BE outraged but don't have the pieces together to justify it.

    I find the Zimmerman argument inherently implausible, completely aside from "racial justice" concerns. Actually the "racial justice" concerns come in more in the instigation of the confrontation in the first place, which I think everyone agrees is on Zimmerman. A facebook friend made a good point - whether this was the right or wrong verdict legally, Zimmerman bears moral responsibility for instigating a confrontation that never needed to happen. Whether he was guilty or not he was being reckless out there.

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    1. "My outrage was that they didn't take him in."

      Um. They did.

      "I do have a sneaking suspicion I SHOULD BE outraged but don't have the pieces together to justify it."

      Good thing questions of guilt and innocence are not based on "sneaking suspicions," then!

      "I find the Zimmerman argument inherently implausible"

      The relevant inquiry is not whether the defense's argument was "plausible" but whether the state proved that it was false beyond any reasonable doubt.

      "Actually the "racial justice" concerns come in more in the instigation of the confrontation in the first place, which I think everyone agrees is on Zimmerman."

      This is loosey-goosey and equivocal. What do you mean by "confrontation?" Approaching someone and saying "hey man, what are you doing around here?" might be rude, but is not unlawful. An interlocutor's mere rudeness or "confrontational" attitude does *not* give you the right to beat the #$%! out of him. And if you do proceed to beat the #$%! out of him, the fact that he was initially rude or "confrontational" does *not* mean that he loses the right to self-defense.

      OTOH, if, say, Zimmerman approached Martin in a dark alley while making a threatening gesture or otherwise placing him in reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm, that would have been unlawful, and would have given rise to Martin's right self-defense. The question therefore is not "who instigated the confrontation," it's who committed the initial act of aggression. I don't pretend to know the answer to that question, but I think the jurors who decided the case were in a much better position to decide it than I.

      "whether this was the right or wrong verdict legally, Zimmerman bears moral responsibility for instigating a confrontation that never needed to happen. Whether he was guilty or not he was being reckless out there."

      Facts and nuance are every bit as crucial to the moral issue as they are to the legal issue. It is possible to construct a theory of the case in which Zimmerman was *not* morally to blame, just as it is to construct one in which he *was*. The question is which theory is true. If Martin launched an unjustified attack on Zimmerman, then Zimmerman was not morally wrong or even "reckless" in defending himself. It all depends on what Zimmerman did, not what you believe he did based on secondhand media reports, etc. In fact, aside from the burden of proof issues I'd say the substantive moral and legal issues are largely congruent in this context, even if they aren't in many or most other contexts. Assuming you understand the law, it is very difficult to conceive of a narrative under which you could coherently conclude that a legally justified killing was morally wrong. (Unless you're a pacifist who thinks that *all* force is wrong.)

      And as a practical matter, notwithstanding the law and the jury instructions, it is unlikely that a jury would find a verdict of not guilty if they believed beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant bore moral responsibility for a young man's death, IMO.

      None of this is to defend Zimmerman -- if someone came on here blathering that Martin was obviously a punk and Zimmerman was right to shoot him in self-defense, I'd criticize them equally. (Remember the burden of proof!) But your reply is a good example of why Gene's original post is on the money.

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    2. "My outrage was that they didn't take him in."

      Um. They did.

      "I do have a sneaking suspicion I SHOULD BE outraged but don't have the pieces together to justify it."

      Good thing questions of guilt and innocence are not based on "sneaking suspicions," then!

      "I find the Zimmerman argument inherently implausible"

      The relevant inquiry is not whether the defense's argument was "plausible" but whether the state proved that it was false beyond any reasonable doubt.

      "Actually the "racial justice" concerns come in more in the instigation of the confrontation in the first place, which I think everyone agrees is on Zimmerman."

      This is loosey-goosey and equivocal. What do you mean by "confrontation?" Approaching someone and saying "hey man, what are you doing around here?" might be rude, but is not unlawful. An interlocutor's mere rudeness or "confrontational" attitude does *not* give you the right to beat the #$%! out of him. And if you do proceed to beat the #$%! out of him, the fact that he was initially rude or "confrontational" does *not* mean that he loses the right to self-defense.

      OTOH, if, say, Zimmerman approached Martin in a dark alley while making a threatening gesture or otherwise placing him in reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm, that would have been unlawful, and would have given rise to Martin's right self-defense. The question therefore is not "who instigated the confrontation," it's who committed the initial act of aggression. I don't pretend to know the answer to that question, but I think the jurors who decided the case were in a much better position to decide it than I.

      "whether this was the right or wrong verdict legally, Zimmerman bears moral responsibility for instigating a confrontation that never needed to happen. Whether he was guilty or not he was being reckless out there."

      Facts and nuance are every bit as crucial to the moral issue as they are to the legal issue. It is possible to construct a theory of the case in which Zimmerman was *not* morally to blame, just as it is to construct one in which he *was*. The question is which theory is true. If Martin launched an unjustified attack on Zimmerman, then Zimmerman was not morally wrong or even "reckless" in defending himself. It all depends on what Zimmerman did, not what you believe he did based on secondhand media reports, etc. In fact, aside from the burden of proof issues I'd say the substantive moral and legal issues are largely congruent in this context, even if they aren't in many or most other contexts. Assuming you understand the law, it is very difficult to conceive of a narrative under which you could coherently conclude that a legally justified killing was morally wrong. (Unless you're a pacifist who thinks that *all* force is wrong.)

      And as a practical matter, notwithstanding the law and the jury instructions, it is unlikely that a jury would find a verdict of not guilty if they believed beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant bore moral responsibility for a young man's death, IMO.

      None of this is to defend Zimmerman -- if someone came on here blathering that Martin was obviously a punk and Zimmerman was right to shoot him in self-defense, I'd criticize them equally. (Remember the burden of proof!) But your reply is a good example of why Gene's original post is on the money.

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  6. Ignorance, Daniel.

    First of all, they did take him in. After their interview, in order to keep him for longer than a day they need probable cause. And if they do book him with probably cause, the prosecutor has only 6 months to try him. This is why prosecutor's want to make sure a case is there before an arrest is made. There was no probable cause against Zimmerman, and even the eventual probable cause affidavit was criticized severely by top lawyers as being possibly illegal for its omissions and distortions. The call for an arrest "because someone died" is based on raw emotion, and not the law.

    If you don't have the pieces together, how can you be so confident that Zimmerman is even guilty of the non-legal offense of acting immorally? How well do you understand the dangers his neighborhood faced? Did you see the last defense witness? Keeping an eye on a suspicious character exposed him to some risk, but there is no evidence that he initiated any aggression against TM except in his last desperate shot. I would be interested to know how someone can feel justified by the facts in calling him immoral, especially someone who admits they don't have all the pieces.

    Apparently many people are content to just eat up the narrative the media serves them. Willing to hope in their hearts that a man spends decades or life in prison based on incomplete and distorted information about the underlying facts.

    This buying into a narrative without studying all the details (as the jury did) seems to be exactly Gene's point.

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