Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News Service
July 19, 2013
George Zimmerman is not guilty. A jury comprised of six women found that prosecutors for the state of Florida failed to prove Zimmerman’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial has ended, but this case is far from over.
Those six women did not find that Zimmerman was innocent — he was merely not guilty. What does that mean? Zimmerman, and any defendant for that matter, does not have to prove anything during a criminal trial. The prosecution has the burden of proving the state’s case.
That burden in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt. A reasonable doubt is often difficult to define. One Zimmerman juror told CNN, “after much confusion over the jury instructions” the panel reached a not guilty verdict on the manslaughter charge.
Here is how Florida defines reasonable doubt: “If, after carefully considering, comparing and weighing all the evidence, there is not an abiding conviction of guilt, or, if, having a conviction, it is one which is not stable but one which wavers and vacillates, then the charge is not proved beyond every reasonable doubt.”
If that doesn’t help, here is what a reasonable doubt isn’t in Florida: “A mere possible doubt, a speculative, imaginary or forced doubt. Such a doubt must not influence [a juror] to return a verdict of not guilty if [the juror has] an abiding conviction of guilt.”
The fact that Zimmerman is not guilty and not innocent is significant. That opens the door to the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue civil rights action against Zimmerman.
"The Department of Justice … and the Federal Bureau of Investigation continue to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal investigation, as well as the evidence and testimony from the state trial," the Justice Department said in a statement after the verdict. "Experienced federal prosecutors will [now] determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation.”
The Department of Justice doesn’t normally investigate civil rights violations allegedly committed by one person against another — a single person normally cannot violate the civil rights of another unless they work for the local, state or federal government. That is why federal prosecutors rarely bring criminal civil rights cases against people who are not law enforcement officers or otherwise working for the government.
A criminal verdict of not guilty does not preclude a wrongful death lawsuit. A successful civil lawsuit following a not guilty verdict in a criminal trial would be reminiscent of the O.J. Simpson case. The family of Ron Goldman, who was killed along with Nicole Brown Simpson in 1994, successfully brought a lawsuit against Simpson following his not guilty verdict in 1995.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, Martin's family would not have to prove Zimmerman's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." Rather, they would only have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Zimmerman wrongfully caused Trayvon Martin’s death.
A preponderance of the evidence means that one side has more evidence in its favor than the other, even by the smallest margin. The scales of justice must tip, ever so slightly, in favor of one side over the other.
Although the Zimmerman case garnered a lot of attention in much the same way that Simpson’s case was a media sensation attention back in 1995, there’s a big difference between Zimmerman and Simpson. Zimmerman doesn’t have any money. Simpson was wealthy with a lot of assets.
"A civil case doesn't make sense from a financial perspective — Zimmerman doesn't have O.J.'s deep pockets," criminal defense lawyer Mark Eiglarsh told the Wall Street Journal. Martin's family "would spend a lot of money, time and energy solely for the satisfaction of putting Zimmerman on the stand."
What is it worth to the Martin family and their supporters to hear Zimmerman’s version, under oath, of Trayvon Martin's killing?
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George and the former district attorney for Lawrence County, Pa. You can read his blog at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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