Innocent Until Proven Guilty(unless…)

When George Zimmerman was found ‘Not Guilty’ of murdering Trayvon Martin, many Americans were shocked and outraged by the verdict. They could not understand how the Florida jury of six(6) women could NOT find Zimmerman guilty of either 2nddegree murder or manslaughter. Most immediately chalked it up to a white Southern jury not being able to convict a white man of the killing a black youth due to the racial element that has been part of the trial from the beginning in most news reports. They also chalked it up as another example of Florida ‘injustice’ like the same verdict in the Casey Anthony case. After all, we all ‘knew’ she killed her young daughter and dumped her lifeless body along the side of a road.

After all, everyone ‘knew’ based on media reports and ‘unofficial’ police/prosecution leaks that George Zimmerman WAS guilty. Of course, being fair and responsible and progressive Americans, Zimmerman should be allowed his day in court, but, in the end, it was expected that the results would be what was ‘just'(i.e. a conviction)–the presumption of innocence that we are entitled to entering a courtroom even being allowed for.

The problem is that the presumption of innocence is not just a nicety in our legal system. It is the bedrock of our legal system. It is a fundamental principle that each and everyone of us holds onto with dear life—it is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. If a jury decides that standard was not reached, then they must as a matter of law find the defendant not guilty. It is easy to Monday morning quarterback a decision reached by any jury. It has happened many times before. Besides the two Florida cases, we have seen the same attitude in the OJ Simpson double murder acquittal, the conviction of Mumia Abu-Jamalfor the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer, the acquittal of the LA Police officers in the Rodney King beating case, and countless other cases.

The reality is those who speak out condemning and being shocked by the Zimmerman verdict know in their heart of hearts that if we were to decide the guilt or innocence of defendants based on the standard of ‘what we know’ instead of ‘what the prosecution can prove beyond a reasonable doubt’, we would truly be living in a society where it would be dangerous to be accused of a crime.

I would like to finish up with some lines from Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

By Being Latino Contributor, Jeffery Cassity Jeffery Cassity is a mostly socially-liberal, fiscally-conservative Anglo male who is involved in his local Hispanic community as the widower of a 1st generation Mexican-American woman and his active, some would say hyperactive, membership in the local Council of the League of Latin American Citizens(LULAC). Be sure to also follow his articles on the Sacramento Press website

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