Wednesday, July 17, 2013

George Zimmerman and reasonable doubt

Sigh. I'm hearing that Florida prosecutors did not prove their case against George Zimmerman beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, BBC News reports that "Alan Dershowitz told BBC News that there was "reasonable doubt" about the facts of what happened." Dershowitz should know better: reasonable doubt is not an issue in the case, and if it were, Zimmerman would have been convicted.

The part of the case which the state's burden to overcome reasonable doubt would apply is as to whether Zimmerman actually shot and killed Trayvon Martin. However, this part of the case is not in doubt; Zimmerman admits to killing Martin. That's all there is for the prosecution's reasonable doubt.

Zimmerman did not try to raise reasonable doubt; instead, he raised the affirmative defense of self-defense. (Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which establishes that a person can claim self-defense even if he or she refuses to retreat, does not apply, because Zimmerman claimed that Martin had restrained him and he was unable to retreat.) An affirmative defense requires the defense, not the prosecution, to bear the burden of proof. The defense's burden is typically lower than the prosecution; the defense has to establish an affirmative defense not beyond a reasonable doubt but by only by the preponderance of evidence. The defense successfully argued that Martin attacked Zimmerman, and Zimmerman shot Martin in self defense.

It is possible that Martin really did attack Zimmerman. However, whether or not he did so is completely irrelevant. The relevant facts, which are not in dispute, are that George Zimmerman armed himself with a pistol, and went out of his way to intentionally create a situation, stalking and harassing Martin, with a strong likelihood of a violent confrontation. George Zimmerman could have prevented Trayvon Martin's death: he knew that his actions could cause Martin's death, he knew that by not intentionally provoking him he could have prevented Martin's death, he knew that he had no good reason to intentionally and deliberately create a situation that might lead to Martin's death, and he did so anyway. That, in my mind, makes Zimmerman an evil bastard guilty of the murder of a child, and our society complicit in that evil by exonerating him.

22 comments:

  1. The real tragedy of this case is not simply Trayvon's murder, but that his murder was sanctioned by law. This was not an issue of the system failing, because the system didn't fail. Florida's ALEC-inspired firearms and self-defense laws did exactly what they were supposed to - they legitimized the unreasonable, racist fears of George Zimmerman and absolved him of his responsibility for the death of another human being. If I didn't have family down there I'd never set foot in that racist-ass state.

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  2. From My reading it was not sanctioned by law but by the jury. The cops wanted to arrest and charge Zimm for the offense but the higher officials said no and under protest it went to trial where the jury said innocent.
    The posting here shows my opinion perfectly. Yes the kid may have just run home, assuming Zimm's account is true.

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  3. The posting here shows my opinion perfectly. Yes the kid may have just run home, assuming Zimm's account is true.

    If by "the kid" you mean Zimmerman, then I concur. He also could have just not left the house armed with a pistol to find someone to harass and provoke.

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  4. What would have been the outcome of events if Zimmerman had been unarmed that night? The gun did not provoke the altercation. Trayvon as unaware of it until after he had Zimmerman on the ground.

    Would the neighbohood patrolman still be recovering from the beating that Trayvon delivered?

    Would Trayvon be serving 5-10 for assault?

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  5. Larry-No I heard that they were just down the street from Trayvon's house and that he could have easy ran home and not confronted the stalker.

    Anon-BS! The gun was the cause-at the very least it gave Zimm a false sense of courage that he could handle the situation. Do you think someone as 'brave; as Zimm would follow another without a gun?
    Also by 'patrolman' do you mean Zimm who was a self appointed vigilante? Or do you mean a uniformed patrolman? Because a uniformed patrolman who would be patrolling the streets in that place would probably have known Trayvon and nothing would have happened.
    Would Trayvon be serving 5+ for assault? Not with me on the jury because Zimm was armed ...deadly fear for my life. But in reality yes he would because unlike Zimm who made sure there was no one to say different, Zimm would have testified to being jumped for no reason and Trayvon would be in jail.
    But these are just opinions as one can play 'woulda-Coulda-shoulda' all day.
    Any way if I was involved with some form of neighbor hood watch I would insist on pairs using video cameras not guns.

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    Replies
    1. All neighborhood patrols are self-appointed but not always a vigilante.
      Yeah, uniformed patrolman never shoot the wrong guy, right.
      Very interesting that you would let Trayvon off because of "deadly fear of my life" but not Zimmerman.
      You don't think Trayvon could/would have finished off Zimm with a few more slams of his head into the ground? Then the "child" would be tried as an "adult".

      Delete
    2. Pick a handle. I will delete any further anonymous comments on this thread. Please read the instructions right above the comments.

      Delete
  6. As to the substantive comments...

    Anon:

    The gun did not provoke the altercation.

    I don't think anyone is saying this. I'm saying that Zimmerman provoked the confrontation. Zimmerman armed himself, which proves that he expected a violent confrontation. Second, Zimmerman had no good reason to harass and stalk Martin. Zimmerman could have prevented Martin's death by simply not going out of his way to create a confrontation.

    We do not, I think, have a lot of confidence about what actually happened when Zimmerman and Martin actually met, and the possessor of one side of the story is conveniently dead. The point is that what happened during the actual confrontation should be irrelevant; what is relevant is that Zimmerman deliberately created the confrontation itself.

    Zimmerman went out looking for trouble, and because he did so, a child is dead. Zimmerman should be held accountable for doing so.

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    1. The anonymous comment has been deleted. If you want to be an apologist for a trigger-happy racist child murderer, you must make some attempt to attach an identity to your comments, at least on my blog. Perhaps "Racist Scumbag" would do?

      Delete
  7. Completely agree with this post.

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  8. From Major Nav (aka anonymous)

    I know attacking your thoughts and arguments are not allowed, but I really want to know where all this is coming from.

    When a black man attacks an hispanic man, pins him to the ground so he can't flee (whether he hit him or not) and gets shot for his efforts, were the actions by either party racist?

    Why does it require a civil rights review?
    What actions or proof is there that civil rights were violated?

    Did Zimm have a history of attending KKK meetings and blogging about his efforts to keep the black man down? Did he tell his wife/friends/neighbors he was going hunting for black men? When Zimm called 911, did he use the n-word or some other racial epithet? Did he snatch the young man and drive him to somewhere secluded before killing him?

    "George Zimmerman armed himself with a pistol, and went out of his way to intentionally create a situation, stalking and harassing Martin"

    You have no proof of this and neither did any of the law enforcement or prosecutors that reviewed the case.

    If you want a legal description of self defense law, watch the video below.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irnD34P2l1w&feature=player_embedded

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  9. I know attacking your thoughts and arguments are not allowed

    That is not the case, Major Nav. You may attack my thoughts and arguments as you please, but I do have some conditions, one of which is that you do me the courtesy of stating some way of addressing you in a civilized manner.

    I have other conditions, some of which you can read at the beginning of the comments section.

    When a black man attacks an hispanic man, pins him to the ground so he can't flee (whether he hit him or not) and gets shot for his efforts, were the actions by either party racist?

    First, this particular post is not primarily about racism: it is about the legal theory of self defense as an affirmative defense, and makes the point that a defendant asserting an affirmative defense cannot rely on reasonable doubt, but must establish at least the preponderance of evidence.

    It is about race only to the extent that I believe that people who pick and interpret the facts to justify Zimmerman's actions do so simply because the victim was black. I believe this despite even explicit denials, which means I am intentionally violating the principle of charity and good will. If such a violation disturbs you, you are free to leave.

    In this case, perhaps simply because of obtusity or stupidity, you are not identifying the racist elements in the larger scenario. Zimmerman intentionally intimidated, harassed, and provoked Martin, for no other reason than that Martin was black, causing a conflict that cost Martin his life. Zimmerman was exonerated for doing so. Had Martin not been black, we know, statistically, that Zimmerman would have been far less likely to have confronted him, and had he confronted and killed Martin, he would have been less likely to have been acquitted.

    Did Zimm have a history of attending KKK meetings and blogging about his efforts to keep the black man down?

    Racism does not have to be blatant to exist. Not all racists announce their racism with a white sheet and a burning cross.

    "George Zimmerman armed himself with a pistol, and went out of his way to intentionally create a situation, stalking and harassing Martin"

    You have no proof of this and neither did any of the law enforcement or prosecutors that reviewed the case.


    Excuse me? All of these are actions that Zimmerman admitted to. Zimmerman did not inadvertently pick up a gun. Zimmerman did not just happen to meet Martin on the street. The conflict was a direct and foreseeable result of Zimmerman's intentional behavior.

    In my view of a civilized society, if your actions intentionally and foreseeably cause the death of another person, you are accountable for that death, and you must justify all the intentional actions that foreseeably could have caused that death, not just those at the moment of the killing.

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  10. From Major Nav:

    Let's try this tack. Academic situation. Pretend you are living in a neighborhood that has had a number of break-ins. You and your neighbors are truly concerned about the security of your homes and families. The cops tell you they cannot spare a patrol for your neighborhood and the neighbors decide to set up a nightly patrol. Due to the limited number of volunteers, each of you takes a night to cruise the neighborhood looking for suspicious individuals or activities.

    So, knowing you will be alone, how do you prepare yourself? Besides carrying a cellphone, what would you take along when confronting suspicious individuals (and don't tell me there is no such thing)? Calling the cops every time is not an option. (Peter and the wolf). Sometimes you do have to talk to folks and ask their purpose being in your neighborhood. Otherwise, you are not a very good patrol.

    How would you decide who to talk to?

    Honestly, would you not talk to a black man walking through a predominantly white neighborhood wearing a hoodie with the hood up?

    After that black man flees from you, you call the cops. While talking to the cops the black man has circled back and tackles you to the ground. What would you do? Take the beating and wait for the cops or defend yourself in any way you can?

    Personally, I would carry a good camera or video camera. But if it is truly a criminal, that could really piss them off. Then what? Call the police and wait ten minutes for them to respond?



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  11. Honestly, would you not talk to a black man walking through a predominantly white neighborhood wearing a hoodie with the hood up?

    Talk? Perhaps, because I would talk to everyone. But black or white, I would be sure to be extremely polite and non-threatening. I would also have some very obvious sign that I was acting as a neighborhood watch, and, like you, I would make very sure that I would have rock-solid evidence in case anything went wrong.

    Remember, even black people do have the right to peaceably go about their lawful business on a public street.

    If you change the material facts of the case, quelle suprise, the outcome changes.

    We do not have any idea what actually happened when Zimmerman confronted Martin, and we cannot rely at all on Zimmerman's testimony. However, we have no reason to believe that Martin would have reacted with hostility to a friendly and non-threatening approach, and we have evidence ("punks and assholes") that Zimmerman may have approached Martin in a threatening manner.

    Remember, self-defense is an affirmative defense: the burden of proof is on the defendant. Although he or she need not overcome reasonable doubt, The defendant does not receive the benefit of reasonable doubt.

    If you're going to kill someone, you have to prove that the shooting was justified and not reasonably avoidable.

    The Zimmerman case is about the right of white people to kill scary black people.

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  12. From Major Nav

    What would YOU do?

    What if the man you politely addressed in a non-threatening manner is pissed that you can now recognize him and may even have a picture. What if the man really was up to something.

    Now he has tackles you to the ground and starts to thump you.

    What would you do to make the beating stop? Would you shoot him? At this point, would it matter what color he was?

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    1. Major Nav, you ask, "What if the man you politely addressed in a non-threatening manner is pissed that you can now recognize him and may even have a picture."

      I think this is a prime illustration of something Larry is saying. We don't know, and because of self interest can't trust Zimmerman's word for it, that Martin was addressed politely in a non-threatening manner. We can't know that Martin was pissed because he was now recognizable and that Zimmerman could even have a picture.

      And yet you're arguing this is the case. It's a lot of speculation on your part. Larry is arguing the facts.

      In this particular case, if Martin had been approached in a non-threatening manner he would have no reason to be pissed that someone could recognize him or that someone would have his picture because he'd done nothing wrong. He wasn't "up to something".

      If you're asking in the hypothetical, what would you do if someone turned hostile after I'd approached them in a non-threatening manner, I'd try to extricate myself from the situation. If the other person approaches me in a hostile manner, I'd upholster and make visible my weapon so he'd know I could defend myself from a distance if need be and then really, really try to extricate myself from the situation. After that, if he gets within arms reach, you don't know what a gun is for. It should have been used before the person gets within arms reach or you shouldn't have a gun at all.

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    2. Stupid autocorrect. It's supposed to be un-holster my weapon - not upholster it. Although an upholstered weapon would be amusing.

      Delete
  13. Major Nav,

    Here's the thing. We don't know what happened between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman during the actual confrontation; we cannot, of course, rely on Zimmerman's testimony. Thus we can come to a judgment about Zimmerman's actions on only two bases. First, we can, as you are doing, assume Martin's killing was justified, and construct a narrative of events that would justify it. Second, we can, as I am doing, base our judgement, as I am doing, on what we do know, and what we know we don't know.

    Second, we must base our judgment on a legal/ethical/political theory. Again, there are two choices: we can operate, as you are, on the theory that some kinds of people (i.e. not blacks) deserve to feel safe, even if that feeling of safety requires the killing of some other kinds of people (i.e. blacks). Second, we can operate, as I do, on the theory that we should everything in our power to avoid killing people, even scary black men, even if not killing people makes some people (i.e. angry racist non-black people) have a little less illusion of safety.

    We know that George Zimmerman could have avoided killing Trayvon Martin. We know that Zimmerman had an attitude of hostility before he left the house. No one has credibly alleged that Travyon Martin did anything "suspicious" other than being black (and again, we cannot rely on Zimmerman's testimony); no one, not even Zimmerman, has alleged that he did anything, other than walking while black, to appear as anything but a peaceful citizen about his lawful business. This is a killing that did not need to happen and could have been avoided. Obviously, my opinion differs from that of the jury, but in my opinion, Zimmerman failed in his basic duty to preserve human life without a good and provable reason to take it.

    The facts might have been such that the shooting would have hypothetically been justified. This hypothetical possibility is not really relevant. First, reasonable doubt does not apply to an affirmative defense; so plausible hypotheticals are not directly relevant. Second, even if reasonable doubt were to apply, we do not have a reason to accept alternative hypotheticals. The most likely explanation is that Zimmerman confronted Martin in a threatening and hostile manner, Martin reacted violently, and Zimmerman shot him. Martin may have erred in reacting violently, but it is most likely he did so as the result of an intentional provocation. As violence is a foreseeable consequence of provocation, and as Zimmerman did not even allege a good reason for that provocation, Zimmerman is guilty of manslaughter.

    I would prefer to live in a society were as few people are violently killed as is reasonable possible. To do so, we need not only moral socialization, but institutional arrangements to prevent unneeded killing. I believe that even our police and court systems do not adequately prevent unneeded killing by the police, and Zimmerman did not have even the inadequate institutional accountability the police are subject to. George Zimmerman killed someone without absolutely unavoidable and provable necessity without institutional accountability, and that, fundamentally, is a crime against civilization.

    Your preference may differ. You may believe that all or some kinds individuals should have the right to kill all or some kinds of individuals without strict institutional accountability. Preferences are preferences, but you should be clear that I consider people who wish to individually and unilaterally hold the power of life and death over others present a clear and present danger to my own life, and if they are not subject to institutional accountability, it is not in my own interest to place myself under the accountability of institutions that protect your right to unilateral action.

    In short, you are asking to replace the rule of law with a state of war. I hope you are assured of winning.

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  14. Remember too, Major Nav, that I am a revolutionary communist and a student of political science. I am not some namby-pamby Kumbaya-singing, bleeding heart privileged-white-guilt liberal. I do not enjoy war, and I do not enjoy using the power of the state to coerce people, but I understand the necessity of both, and neither scare me.

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    1. Why are you avoiding answering my question about what would you do?

      Are you saying you would only defend yourself from a beating if you could have evidence it was self-defense?

      Your almost there. No one has the right to kill anyone. But everyone has the right to defend themselves/family, even if that means using lethal force.

      Police officers and the military are granted permission to kill, if necessary, anyone who is a threat to the public or national interests.

      Your "knowns" are dubious at best. Revisit your premise.

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    2. My overall response is here: Self defense. Briefly, I do not dispute that killing is sometimes justifiable, nor do I dispute that self-defense is one of those justifications. The question instead is whether Zimmerman has a legitimate claim to self-defense. I do not believe he has a legitimate ethical or political claim to that defense, because he not only did not go far enough out of his way to avoid killing Trayvon Martin, but because he actively and intentionally created a situation that should have foreseen (and, by the evidence probably did foresee) could cause the death of a human being without sufficient justification.

      Your "knowns" are dubious at best. Revisit your premise.

      You will need to give me just a tad more if you want to have a conversation about my premises. You came here: if you came here for a conversation, then converse. If you came here to abuse or insult me, you are encouraged to leave.

      Delete
    3. From Major Nav:

      Sorry, I accidentally deleted the premise I was referring too.

      Your known: "We know that Zimmerman had an attitude of hostility before he left the house."

      and you repeatedly assert:

      "...because he actively and intentionally created a situation that should have foreseen (and, by the evidence probably did foresee) could cause the death of a human being without sufficient justification."

      This is the premise I am referring to. If this was the known, it would have gone to trial straight away and the prosecutor would have led with painting the picture of the racist, rogue, and unlawful vigilante out on the hunt. In a sense, they tried, but there was no evidence to support Zimm had this mindset when he walked out the door.

      We will never know, for sure, what interaction took place prior to the assault or how the assault occured. We just know the result, Zimm was on his back on the ground when he pulled the trigger.

      But even if Zimm left the house with a chip on his shoulder, that is no proof that he did not act civilly when he approached Trayvon nor that he hunted down and killed him.

      Delete

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