Was justice served in the Trayvon Martin case?
July 15, 2013
I’ve practiced law most of my adult life. During that time I have been a prosecutor, a criminal defense attorney and a civil lawyer. I have won cases and lost them.
And I have come to understand what justice consists of in the American legal system.
It is not a theoretical construct, not one of Plato’s forms that exists external to the real world in a timeless vacuum untouched by the foibles of human imperfections.
Rather justice in the United States is only one thing: Whatever a jury says it is.
This may sound like blasphemy to those who prefer to armchair quarterback justice, to relive a trial and curse the participants for reaching what to them seems an unfair or unjust result.
We are still rehashing the first OJ trial almost twenty years after the verdict. Already today I have seen posts comparing the Trayvon Martin case to OJ.
That’s what I mean.
The United States justice system is based on the rule of law, and the buck stops with a jury.
The argument erupts like this.
“Do you really believe OJ was innocent?”
“The system doesn’t address innocence. All a jury can do is find someone guilty or not guilty of the crime with which he was charged.”
“So you think he was innocent?”
“It doesn’t matter what I think. A jury found him not guilty. That means he’s not guilty.”
“You don’t really think he was innocent, do you?” And so forth year after year.
The same argument will rage about George Zimmerman.
After listening to both sides of the case for three weeks, a jury found him not guilty. So under the law he is not guilty.
That doesn’t erase the tragedy of the event, the loss of Trayvon Martin’s young life, the senselessness of it all.
That’s another issue altogether. One we will and should debate.
My point here is simple. Perhaps the greatest protection we have as United States citizens is the right to a trial by a jury of our peers when our freedom is at stake. Most people never find themselves sitting in a courtroom in the chair reserved for the accused. When they do, however, they become true believers, not in the theory of justice, but in its practice. And that practice abides in only one place, a jury room where a handful of our fellow citizens decide our fate.
It is like what Winston Churchill said about democracy.
It’s the worst form of government ever devised, except for all the others.