THE BLOG

Zimmerman Prosecutors Overreached and Paid the Price

07/15/2013 04:43 pm ET | Updated Sep 14, 2013

A not guilty verdict was not surprising to anyone paying attention to this case. Some of the best witnesses for Zimmerman were called by the prosecution. Charging Zimmerman with 2nd degree murder was a political decision -- pure and simple -- and the verdict was a direct result. The State had to know it didn't have the evidence to prove this charge. This isn't to say Zimmerman didn't deserve to be charged with something. But charging him with 2nd degree murder was just dumb, something done to pacify the crowd. The State went from one extreme to the other when the interests of justice demanded a moderated response somewhere in the middle. Sure, the murder charge garnered great headlines, but some sort of lesser charges would have made more sense. I know the court instructed the jury at the end of the case that they could consider manslaughter, but the prosecution had promised them far more. Jury trials are theatre in which the attorneys act as directors of competing narratives. Too many witnesses supported Zimmerman's narrative. John Good testified when pressed that he believed Trayvon was on top reigning blows on Zimmerman who said "help.' I doubt the jury believed anything the prosecution had to say by the end of the case. Instead of shades of gray, the prosecution went for black and white and that's the kind of decision the jury rendered. If the prosecution had made a more dispassionate decision about what charges the evidence supported, it had a far greater chance of having the jury make a more nuanced decision about Zimmerman as a wrongdoer. By demonizing him with a murder charge, it became an 'all or nothing' case.

Jurors want to do the right thing. I once had a jury member after a favorable verdict yell out the window of his car as he drove away, "one for the good guys." In May of each year on Law Day, lawyers across the country go to schools to talk with students about the practice of law. Once, a 10 year old asked me if I ever had a jury find someone innocent who was guilty. I reminded him there was a difference between not guilty and innocent. Not guilty doesn't mean the guy didn't do something wrong. It just means the State couldn't prove the charges they elected to bring. Florida failed miserably here. Maybe federal prosecutors will get it right.