Sunday, July 14, 2013

The George Zimmerman Verdict

George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in February 2012. That is a sad fact. But, yet Zimmerman was found not guilty and people can’t seem to figure out why and are mislabeling the verdict as racist. That assertion is nonsense. It could have been argued as racist had Zimmerman never been charged. However, he was charged with 2nd Degree murder and faced up to life in prison had he been convicted.

Why Zimmerman wasn’t convicted was because the prosecution’s case was weak. Here is what happened. Zimmerman sees Martin and thinks he looks suspicious. Zimmerman is probably racially profiling Martin, which is deplorable but not illegal. Then, Zimmerman gets out of his car and follows Martin, though he’s advised not to. Again, that’s not illegal but doesn’t look good for Zimmerman.

At some point, verbal and then physical altercations erupt that are witnessed by no one. The State was unable to prove who the initial physical aggressor was. This might have been the most fatal flaw in their case. Evidence showed that Zimmerman’s nose was struck hard and the back of his head was cut at least twice. Thus, Martin obviously got some blows in.

But whom touched whom first? The State couldn’t prove this and in a self-defense case, this is an extremely important point. Also, no witness was able to positively identify the person heard yelling during the 911 call. There was opinion testimony but that’s it. Opinions.

The jury is left with a dead kid and the guy that shot him. But the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was not acting in lawful self-defense. And I imagine, that’s why Zimmerman was acquitted.

Zimmerman was wrong for profiling Martin and he was wrong for following him. And those acts might have been racist. But in no way was the verdict racist. The State had the opportunity to put on all of its evidence and the jury appeared to do a very thorough job of evaluating that evidence before reaching a verdict.

To suggest that the outcome of the Zimmerman trial was racist would mean that the prosecutor’s office conspired with the jurors to have Zimmerman acquitted and that’s simply nonsensical. A number of us may not like this verdict because Zimmerman was responsible for Martin’s death. And his acts that night may have been racially motivated.

The trial, however, was not racist and properly so. The jurors witnessed the evidence. Most of the people complaining about this verdict did not. For many, that a white (sort of white) man was acquitted for killing a young black man, just has to be racist. The actions that led to Martin’s death might have been racist, but the verdict was not and was the right verdict.

However, it’s easy to understand the confusion. The media portrayed Zimmerman as a racist and he might be. But that’s not what he was on trial for. This whole mess was simply sad. A young black man minding his own business was killed. And for that, people rightly felt his killer should be held accountable. However, the law often doesn’t fit the views of a society that’s been pumped full of media spun stories.

You can dislike the verdict as a society that rightfully felt Trayvon Martin deserved justice. I wanted Zimmerman convicted because I believe he was in the wrong. He should have stayed in his car and not followed Martin. But exiting his car is not illegal and the jury determined that him shooting Martin was also not illegal because the State of Florida simply could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman did not act in self-defense and thus, reached the right verdict.

It’s understandable that many cannot get their heads around the verdict, but labeling it as racist is misguided. And it needs to stop. The Martin family lawyer, Benjamin Crump, in his post verdict statements, likened Martin to Medgar Evers and Emmet Till. I find that statement highly reckless and far off the mark. The only purpose that comment could have served was stirring up more racial discontent over the verdict.

George Zimmerman may be a racist, but it was a fair and just trial in the eyes of the law. Dislike of the verdict is understandable, but playing the race card isn't justified and only makes things worse. This mess was sensationalized due to race and I find that sad. Black man killed by non-black man and it looks like the killer is a racist, thus he must pay. As a society, we can feel that way and perhaps, rightly so.

In the courtroom, however, there is no media spin. There are only facts derived from proper evidence. And in the case of George Zimmerman, the prosecution simply did not have enough evidence to convict. It was an extremely fair trial that was judged quite well. The prosecution just didn't have a strong case and racism played no part in their failure to secure a conviction.

Had Trayvon Martin been white, George Zimmerman likely never gets charged. But the media spun this story as the racist murdering of a young black teenager, which sounds horrible and cannot be allowed by our society. If this trial stands for anything it's how dangerous and reckless the media is in its never ending hunt for stories that shock us and this one certainly did so. 

Due to the media frenzy, Zimmerman was convicted before the trial began. Thousands gripped tightly to their beliefs about the case, only to have them shattered by the verdict. By swallowing the media spin, you've lost the ability to consider the case objectively, which is what jurors must do. Thus, it's no surprise that the legal verdict, which was inconsistent with the media's verdict, caused such an uproar.

The blame should focused on the media, not the State of Florida.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Current Update-Future Plans

I realize it's been a long time since I've updated this blog. In 2009, when I began blogging here, it wasn't to attract readers. At the time, I was new to the practice of criminal defense law here in Chicago and needed a venue to air out frustrations and thoughts. Thus, Chicago Criminal Defense was born.

In the beginning, I blogged regularly and my blogs tended to be lengthy. When necessary, I tried to explain complex legal concepts in a way that almost anyone could digest and understand. This was, in part, practice for speaking to jurors in courtrooms. I was trying to learn how to discuss the law without resorting to legalese. I was also developing myself as a writer, though it wasn't intentional nor was I aware that it was happening.

It's fair to say that in 2009 I was hungry and had a lot of passion for the work. However, in the spring of 2010 when my client was convicted of murder something in me changed. Then a couple months later, another client was convicted of attempted murder. By the end of 2010, I had begun to grow cynical about the work. In short, I was forced to admit the criminal justice system is horribly broken. I also was forced to admit that I had failed two clients in a time of desperate need. As a result, fueling cynicism consumed idealism and I hardened. This was a blog I wrote as I brooded over 2010.

In the summer of 2011, the stunning verdict in the Kenneth Green trial restored my faith in juries and myself as a trial attorney. It wasn't that I felt I was deficient in 2010, but I did lose two big trials, which created sporadic palpable amounts of self-doubt in my abilities. Then in March 2012, I secured a not guilty verdict for a client charged of murder in a cold case from 1984.

However, that same month, another client was convicted of attempted murder in one of the worst jury trials imaginable. The judge helped the prosecution through a lack of knowledge of the rules of evidence. Additionally, the judge refused to inquire about prosecutorial misconduct--communication with a juror--that my co-counsel witnessed during the trial. However, despite terrible judicial rulings, my closing argument made the case close.

On a Friday evening at 7:00 p.m., and after several hours of deliberation, the jury sent a note to the judge indicating they were deadlocked, were not going to be able to reach a verdict and requested to come back the next day. Over my objection, the judge ordered them to continue to deliberate. An hour later, the jury came back with a guilty verdict. I did not blog about this case because I was simply too pissed off.

In a way, that case was the last straw for me doing this job in Chicago. In the summer of 2012, I decided I needed a change of scenery and no longer wished to practice law. I can't fully explain it, but I began to feel unhealthy, though physical fitness is a cornerstone in my life. It was my mental health about which I worried. I was on medication for anxiety, depression and had to take pills to sleep. Chicago, and this job, began to make me feel sick inside.

But there was more to it.

Initially in 2009 and 2010, my business was a success and it was profitable. However, in 2011 and 2012, I saw final figures in the red and a resultant escalation in debt as I scrambled to keep things afloat. At the time, I couldn't understand why business went from great to poor. The eventual answer was marketing. My initial marketing plan worked until it didn't and I failed to understand why. If I made any errors in running the business, it was this.

That my fiscal problems coincided with my burn out was rather fortuitous. I could have borrowed money and revamped my marketing but I chose not to. It was time to move on.

I'm okay with how things have ended up. I had opportunities and accomplished things that changed the lives of people who I doubt will ever forget me (not that I care). I had a career case with Kenneth Green and knew that there would never be another case anywhere close to it. I represented about 300 people in Cook County felony courts. I won some trials. I lost some trials. I won some 4th Amendment motions. And I lost some. But I fought the good fight and am getting out on my terms--though aged considerably all around.

Moving forward, in the fall of 2012, I began freelance writing articles and ghost blogging on a variety of topics. The work doesn't pay well, but it does pay. In February and March of 2013, I wrote a novel titled, .40 Cal Sayulita and in May I wrote a second novel, Concealed Carry. I have a literary agent whose job it is to sell my books to a publisher; however, the book business moves at a turtle's pace. 

I plan to leave Chicago in September for a far southern destination where I can enjoy wide open space, quietness, a slower pace and a greater sense of personal freedom. I believe I have what it takes to make a living as a novelist and found that I love writing fiction. Thus, herein lies my current focus. If this doesn't pan out, however, I'll find something else to do. I really like ranch work. I'd maybe like to teach some day. Maybe I'll take up fishing. Maybe practice law in a different state. I really can't predict anything beyond this next year.

But for my experiences here in Chicago, I wouldn't have been able to write either novel nor the ones that will surely follow. After all, the first rule of writing is to write about that which you know.

I have always tried to blog in an honest, transparent way and I hope this last posting meets that standard. If you follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn you'll surely know when my writings are published. And I hope at least a couple of you will consider reading them.

Thanks for reading,