There is an epidemic in this country that needs to be ended. In the aftermath of the Casey Anthony trial, many people went to great lengths to find any way, any construct of law that could be employed to see Casey Anthony re-arrested and re-tried on charges of killing her daughter. I discussed that case at length, including addressing the last arguments that, unfortunately, are still being made, such as the “dual sovereignty” doctrine.
My last article on Casey Anthony was in January 2013. It is the evening of July 13, 2013, as I write this, and George Zimmerman has just been acquitted of culpability in the death of Trayvon Martin by a jury of six women.
Within hours of the verdict being announced, many took to the Internet to begin searching for information on whether Zimmerman’s acquittal can be overturned. The search terms have led people to this blog, namely my article “Overturning a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict“:
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Can a judge overturn a not guilty verdict? No. Can a judge reverse a not guilty verdict and enter a guilty verdict against a defendant? Absolutely not. Can a not guilty verdict in a criminal case be overturned or vacated? No.
And we should all be thankful this is the case in the United States, because it is not the case in other countries. An example is Italy and the problems Amanda Knox is having with their justice system.
I’m sure it won’t be long before people insult the Zimmerman jury, and go so far as to insult the jury system itself. In March 2012, I wrote this:
[W]e should avoid denigrating the entire jury system simply because one jury returns a verdict with which there might be public disagreement.
In the Zimmerman trial, it was never in question whether Zimmerman shot Martin. It was never in question that Martin’s death resulted from the gunshot. The question was whether Zimmerman’s actions were justified. As self defense is an affirmative defense or positive defense, that question had to be answered by George Zimmerman through evidence. The prosecution’s job, in this case, was to plug enough holes in Zimmerman’s assertion of self defense that the only result is conviction on some degree of homicide.
And the jury did not buy into the prosecution’s portrayal of Zimmerman, and the facts don’t appear to support it either. How do the facts not support it? Zimmerman was acquitted, plain and simple.
Your assessment is not less important than that of the jurors, but it is less informed. No matter how much of the trial you watched on CNN, those jurors almost certainly saw more of the evidence than you did. They held documents in their hands. They saw what the witnesses—and Zimmerman—were doing while not on camera. They were excluded from hearing evidence that the judge deemed inappropriate or inadmissible. They have been instructed on the specific components of the law. And, most important, they are the only ones who know what arguments are being used to persuade each other to reach a unanimous decision.
Each of these things is an important part of the process of a criminal trial; I’ll break out why below. But again: While we can watch the trial through the keyhole provided by CNN, we should never convince ourselves that we know better than the people in that room.
He continues by explaining four key points which, again, most people never realize or quickly forget:
- Jurors must evaluate the evidence.
- Jurors only see evidence that’s admissible.
- The jury only worries about what the law says.
- Deliberations are much, much harder than they seem.
To be sure the jury’s verdict leaves unanswered a lot of questions, because all of the jury’s deliberations are distilled into a verdict. And on the verdict, the facts that were to be proven are taken at all or nothing. With this trial, again, the entire burden of proof was actually on Zimmerman to prove self defense. The only thing the prosecutor had to demonstrate was that some law was violated.
The prosecutor did overreach by throwing in the murder charge. Murder means that Zimmerman intended to kill Martin. Manslaughter, the lesser charge, means that Martin’s death was a foreseeable result of Zimmerman’s actions, but not Zimmerman’s intent.
Self defense is, again, an affirmative defense. When Zimmerman took on that defense, he, in essence, admitted to manslaughter. The prosecutor tried to go one further and prove murder and the jury didn’t buy it. The prosecutor tried to plug holes in Zimmerman’s assertion of self defense, but the jury didn’t buy it.
The jury acquitted Zimmerman. And that jury’s acquittal can never be overturned, reversed or vacated.
And as the “Petite policy” means that all relevant facts to which the Department of Justice might have a Federal interest have been vindicated with Zimmerman’s trial at the State level, the Federal government’s dual sovereignty will not be exercised on questions that would overlap.