Zimmerman Not Guilty: Don't Shoot the Messenger

Zimmerman Not Guilty: Don't Shoot the Messenger

Last weekend, George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in the criminal case involving the death of Trayvon Martin. Given the racial overtones of the case, it's no surprise that reaction to the verdict has been explosive.

This illustrates a general problem: jurors often get a bad rap for what they do. People unhappy with the outcome of a case often assume jurors are prejudiced, lazy, or otherwise unfit for their duty. Others assume jurors get hung up on facts which are only remotely relevant, while ignoring key evidence which might lead them in another direction.

In our experience trying cases, however, these things are just not true. Most jurors take their job seriously and do their best to apply the law to the facts. They follow the judge's instructions on the law too, even if they personally don't like the laws they are asked to apply. Jurors also reach verdicts that make them feel bad when they believe the law demands it.

People unhappy with the Zimmerman verdict should not be pointing a finger at jurors. Again, every indication is that they did their best to follow the laws that applied. Rather, anger should directed at the laws themselves, which arguably did not fit well with the circumstances of the case. At the risk of oversimplifying things, the laws required the jurors to focus on the actual physical encounter between Zimmerman and Martin, rather than all the things that led up that tragic encounter.

To their credit, many people unhappy with the verdict have recognized this. They are demanding changes in the law, rather than just slamming the jurors for following it as it is today.

One should also consider also what the jurors have been through in the Zimmerman case. They were sequestered for weeks. They deliberated for about two days, well into a weekend night when they would have preferred to be home with their families. Reports about that deliberation, though incomplete, suggest they reviewed the evidence carefully and deeply felt the tragedy of Trayvon Martin's death.

Now those jurors will have to endure second-guessing about their verdict. This will come from all manner of self-important, pontificating "experts" who were not in the courtroom and did not see and hear the things they did. This will happen not because jurors did anything wrong, but because the 24-hour news cycle requires people to come up with things to talk about.

We hope for the jurors' sake that they manage to retain their privacy and get on with their lives. They should get credit, rather than condemnation, for answering the call and performing a most important civic duty.

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