Epstein on Martin/Zimmerman Case

Justice for Trayvon Martin?
Richard A. Epstein
Defining Ideas
July 22, 2013

As the country well knows, in a Seminole County courthouse on July 13, 2013, a six-woman Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of charges of both second-degree murder and manslaughter for the killing of an unarmed 16-year-old Trayvon Martin. Ordinarily, a jury verdict signals an end to public controversy on a particular case. But not in this case. The post-trial events have turned a powerful lens on modern American society. That lens reveals a deep distrust of the operation of our criminal justice system by millions of Americans who think that Zimmerman’s acquittal amounted to a travesty of justice.

The United States has had its fair share of travesties, but the Florida verdict is not one of them. For starters, why should Zimmerman have been prosecuted at all? A timeline compiled in April 2012, shortly after the tragic events, reveals conflicting accounts of who attacked whom and why. To be sure, there are some serious inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s various accounts, but none that suggest he was the initial aggressor in the case.

Taking the evidence as a whole, it is not clear who approached whom first or who initiated the use of force. It was clear, however, that one person was on top of the other when Zimmerman shot Martin, but the identity of that person remains unclear. An imperfect eye-witness account pointed to Trayvon being on top of Zimmerman, beating his head into the concrete, which would account for the bloody scrapes on the back of Zimmerman’s head. If Martin had lived and Zimmerman died, charges of homicide—perhaps of second-degree murder—might have been brought against Martin.

Richard A. Epstein