Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Trial by Jury in Florida

"The jury decided WHAT?"
The “Rashomon effect” takes its name from Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film of that name. In it, four witnesses to the murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife give differing and contradictory accounts of the crime. The effect refers to the observation that truth is difficult to discern in a world of multiple perspectives, motivations, and personal histories.
If the truth can sometimes be elusive even with witnesses to an event, perhaps we should be cautious about claims to accurate understanding of a set of events reconstructed after their occurrence. In the recent Zimmerman homicide case in Florida, though, it seems as if everyone is convinced of the infallibility of his or her opinion and outraged that anyone else might interpret the events differently. Well, there has been a trial and the jury, after hearing evidence provided by both sides, has rendered the official decision.  Clearly, many people believe that this official decision was wrong. But legal verdicts cannot rest on unanimity of public opinion.
There are situations in which jury decisions should be re-evaluated. If, for example, the prosecution withholds exculpatory evidence from the defense in order to get a conviction, the trial process has clearly been corrupted. If bribes or fear of retaliation influence the jurors, this should invalidate their decision. But there have been no evident procedural violations in the notorious Florida trial. Those protesting the verdict are not, as far as I can tell, directing their protests against the manner in which the jurors reached their verdict. If the same jury had come to a different conclusion, the protestors would presumably be satisfied (although another set of people might be upset).  But you cannot have a trial in which the outcome you want is guaranteed. If you accept the trial as a method, as opposed to justice imposed by a mob, then you have to accept both the verdicts you think are right and those that you think are wrong, as long as those verdicts are procedurally correct.
At this point, there is a possibility that the Depart of Justice will intervene to bring a new set of civil rights charges against the acquitted defendant. I am not an attorney, but I believe that the DOJ could do this without technically violating the prohibition against double jeopardy, since these charges would be “new.”  While the DOJ might be able to do this under the letter of the law, it would be contrary to the spirit of the prohibition because the point of not allowing the same charges to be brought more than once is to prevent the authorities from going after someone forever or until they get a conviction. And those civil rights charges, if brought, would essentially be the same allegations dressed up a little differently, intended to retry the case in search of a different outcome.
The Martin family could also bring a civil suit.  Those who believe they have suffered damages due to the actions of another have recourse to the courts. If the family does so, then it will be up to the legal system to decide the civil case.  People marching, shouting slogans, and brandishing placards should have no influence on lawsuits or on criminal cases.

No comments:

Post a Comment