Friday, April 13, 2012

Where’s the ‘Probable Cause’? (Zimmerman/Martin)

April 13, 2012 - By John R. Lott Jr.

The affidavit in the Zimmerman case fails to justify a second-degree-murder charge.

The charges brought against George Zimmerman sure look like prosecutorial misconduct. The case as put forward by the prosecutor in the “affidavit of probable cause” is startlingly weak. As a former chief economist at the U.S. Sentencing Commission, I have read a number of such affidavits, and cannot recall one lacking so much relevant information. The prosecutor has most likely deliberately overcharged, hoping to intimidate Zimmerman into agreeing to a plea bargain. If this case goes to trial, Zimmerman will almost definitely be found “not guilty” on the charge of second-degree murder.

The prosecutor wasn’t required to go to the grand jury for the indictment, but the fact that she didn’t in such a high-profile case is troubling. Everyone knows how easy it is for a prosecutor to get a grand jury to indict, because only the prosecutor presents evidence. A grand-jury indictment would have provided political cover; that charges were brought without one means that the prosecutor was worried that a grand jury would not give her the indictment.

The affidavit consists of six main points:

● Zimmerman was upset about all “the break-ins in his neighborhood” and expressed anger at how criminals “always get away.”

● According to a discussion with Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend, who said that she was talking to Martin before the attack, Zimmerman followed Martin. He did so despite the police operator’s saying “we don’t need you to do that.”

● Zimmerman “confronted Martin and a struggle ensued,” though no evidence is cited on this point.

● Trayvon Martin’s mother identified the voice crying for help on a 9-1-1 call as her son’s.

● Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest, and this is confirmed by both Zimmerman’s statement and ballistics tests.

● Martin died from the gunshot wound.

Note some of the points that are missing. The prosecution doesn’t claim Zimmerman had racial animus against blacks. There was no “f***ing coons” on the police call. Some extremely relevant information from the police report is completely excluded: There is no mention of the grass and wetness found on the back of Zimmerman’s shirt, the gashes on the back of his head, the bloody nose, or the other witnesses who saw Martin on top of Zimmerman, beating him, before the shot was fired. There is not even an attempt to say that the police report was in error; instead the affidavit just disregards it.

Even if everything in the affidavit is correct, it does not even begin to deal with the most crucial question: Who attacked whom? Even if it is true that “Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued,” there may have been no wrongdoing on Zimmerman’s part. “Confronted” does not mean “provoked” or “assaulted.” It could simply mean that Zimmerman followed Martin and asked him what he was doing in the neighborhood. Surely Zimmerman had the right to investigate a strange person in his neighborhood. The police operator’s advice that “we don’t need you to do that” was merely suggestive, not an order to stop. Indeed, the police had no authority to give Zimmerman such an order.

Now take the charge of “second degree” murder. There is no way that the affidavit justifies such a charge. In Florida, second-degree murder is defined as “the unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual.” But if Zimmerman was being beaten, there was no “depraved mind regardless of human life,” and the act “imminently dangerous to another” would be justified as self-defense.

Angela Corey, the special prosecutor who filed charges, claimed multiple times on Wednesday that the prosecutors “are seekers of the truth.” In our legal system, grand juries can sometimes provide a check on prosecutors who indict based on political pressure or the desire to seek the limelight. It is no surprise that Corey avoided the grand jury.

It is my belief that Zimmerman's charges currently stem from nothing more than public opinion, driven by media bias and celebrity hyperbole (obama, spike lee, al sharpton, jesse jackson, etc).  If Zimmerman is innocent and is falsely convicted, it will be the folks mentioned above that share responsibility.  They care nothing about Trayvon Martin, but seized the issue as an opportunity to advance their causes (reelection, $$$, etc.)

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