Thursday, June 21, 2012

George Zimmerman and the Right to Remain Silent

This video of George Zimmerman reenacting the Trayvon Martin shooting for police investigators back in February is worth watching.

Let's posit Zimmerman's story is true. Did he commit a crime? Let's consider how Trayvon Martin might tell the same story, if he were alive to tell it.

Martin was walking home alone from a convenience store through a new subdivision and a truck driven by a lone male, George Zimmerman, passed him. The truck parked ahead of him and Martin walked past it. The truck resumed following him, even after Martin turned down another street.

Martin stopped and turned back and walked around the truck to see who was following him, then resumed his route leaving the street and going down a sidewalk between rows of homes. Zimmerman got out of his truck and tried to follow him.

At that point, Martin confronted Zimmerman and asked the man who had been following him, "Do you have a problem?"

Zimmerman, who had unknown to Martin gone so far as to call police about his suspicions of Martin being a potential burglar, did not explain himself or ask Martin to explain himself. He lied and said "No, I don't have a problem."

At that point, Martin hit the man who had been following him, knocked him down, and ground his head into the pavement. A neighbor, in response to Zimmerman's cries for help, came out the back of his house, and said he was calling 911. All Martin had to do was hold Zimmerman down and wait for police to arrive.

Instead, Zimmerman reached up, pulling his jacket up over his gun holster. That put Martin in fear for his life and both Zimmerman and Martin grabbed for the gun. Zimmerman was able to draw it and, rather than wait with gun drawn for the police to arrive, fired the shot that killed Martin.

Now, of course, Zimmerman may not be fully telling the truth. But let's say he is. Did he have the right to put Martin in that situation and then shoot him?

It's not enough, I think, for Zimmerman to say that Martin threw the first punch. Martin was being followed by an armed man for no apparent reason. It's also not enough, as Zimmerman expresses, that no one came to Zimmerman's immediate assistance in response to his shouts for help.

I have some sympathy for George Zimmerman. The way I see it, he does not deserve the death penalty or life in prison. Nor did he deserve to have his brains beat in or to be shot and killed by his own gun. But he did create an ambiguous and dangerous situation, and he bears most of the responsibility for that.

Now here's the rub. A lot of what we know comes from what George Zimmerman has told the police. He had the right to remain silent, but he did not use it. If he had not told his self-defense story, he would almost certainly have been charged at the time of the shooting. He came very close to talking his way out of facing any criminal charges. While it may be that this taped reenactment will be used against him, he does come across as cooperative and truthful, so it seems more likely it may instead help him win acquittal.

That would go against everything every defense lawyer has ever been taught or ever tried to tell their client and against every cop show that has ever been on television.


buddeshepherd said...

one aspect of this case that is very interesting is that it demonstrates the differences between the "reality" we want to believe and the "reality" we actually believe in. This is illustrated on multiple levels.
Your video demonstrates how George Z. reacts to his experiences with crime in his neighborhood. He views everything through this prism.
Suddenly his reality is shattered and he can't comprehend how other people view his actions.
I suppose the only thing that can save him is to paint of convincing picture from his viewpoint.
Then there is official cultural view point that you can't judge a person by skin color or what they wear, but we all violate that cultural rule all the time and everyone see's a black kid with a hoodie as a potential gang member and a criminal.
Just like everyone thinks skateboarders are annoying little punks even if you are one or have a "skateboarding" is not a crime bumper sticker.
Or that the twitchy skinny white guy in short pants and riding a BMX bicycle is a tweeker and not a retired BMX champion on his kid's bicycle.
But, we of course pretend otherwise to avoid the label of "profiling."

buddeshepherd said...

Good grief I just tend to ramble on about stuff that other people have said in a better way and then I think I'm profound.
If I ever started smoking dope I would be really annoying.
Oh well, it always feels good to have comments! have a nice day.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Yes, you get at something important here. One reason we are seeing this video, which the defense released, is because the jury may not.

The prosecution can use this video if it wants. But the defense can't use it without putting Zimmerman on the witness stand. If they do that, the prosecution gets to tell how he and his wife conspired to lie at his bail hearing.

So there is also the courtroom "reality".