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Why the George Zimmerman Jury Got It Right

A criminal jury trial is not a popularity contest.

In the days following the jury’s decision that George Zimmerman was not guilty of the second-degree murder or manslaughter of Trayvon Martin, the press reported on many who protested the jury’s verdict. The U.S. Department of Justice, which had started an investigation following Martin’s death, promised to continue that investigation, stating in a July 15, 2013 press release, “Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the Department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial.” The federal investigation is needless because:

  1. The George Zimmerman jury got it right.
  2. The local police chief at the time, Bill Lee, got it right when he initially determined that George Zimmerman should not be charged with a crime. Zimmerman was charged only after outside political pressure came to bear on the case.

Florida has a stand your ground law that allows a person to use deadly force in a confrontation when in “reasonable fear of imminent peril or death” without a requirement to retreat. For the jury to find Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder, the prosecution would have had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he shot Martin intentionally and not in the course of defending himself. But the prosecution offered no evidence to challenge Zimmerman’s account that he shot Martin in self-defense after Martin punched him in the face and slammed his head into the ground.

Stand-your-ground laws are on the books in only a minority of states. The jury was not empowered to evaluate whether stand your ground should or should not be the law in Florida. It was the jury’s job to decide this case under the law — and that is what they did.

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