Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Justice for Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

The New Jersey Law Journal Editorial Board has sharply criticized Special Prosecutor Angela Corey for her prejudicial remarks at the press conference announcing the indictment of George Zimmerman for 2d Degree murder in the Trayvon Martin slaying.

copyright American Lawyer Media - ALM (April 20, 2012)

Trayvon Martin's death as he walked through a gated community where he was visiting his father has evoked powerful responses. The local police and prosecutor took no action, fueling outrage. Many emotionally identified with Martin as an innocent victim, guilty only of being black and unrecognized by an armed neighbor who had styled himself as a "neighborhood watchman." Martin's hooded sweatshirt became an iconic symbol of the suspicion with which black men are so often greeted while doing nothing out of the ordinary. Public and media attention intensified when the president observed that if he had a son, the child would look like Martin.
George Zimmerman, the gunman, evoked the sympathy of many who saw the killing as an instance of self-defense when two men struggled, or identified Zimmerman as a principal in a tragic misunderstanding.
As public suspicions hardened into firm convictions, a special prosecutor was appointed. We thought that an excellent decision, as the case remained a nationwide topic of passionate debate. In such circumstances, it is particularly important that law enforcement meet the highest standards of integrity and competence.
We sensed trouble when Florida Special Prosecutor Angela Corey announced she would not convene a grand jury, skipping the first means of testing one's evidence and demonstrating recognition of the citizenry's right to gauge the conduct of prosecutors. Then she filed an affidavit of probable cause that is so thin the second-degree murder criminal information may not survive a motion to dismiss. Our anxiety deepened when she stepped up to the microphone for a presentation that seemed designed to project the sincerity of her conclusion that Zimmerman was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crime of second-degree murder when he killed Martin.
She began her remarks reporting that she had just spoken with Martin's "sweet parents" to whom she had "promised answers to all their questions" — answers which she now had. She thanked her staff and the governor who appointed her. After some boilerplate remarks about prosecutors as "ministers of justice," she quickly went off script, saying: "The first thing my team and I did upon being appointed was to meet with Trayvon's family and pray with them. We opened our meeting with prayer."
Corey went on to thank "all those people across this country who have sent positive energy and prayers our way." She asked them to continue to pray for Martin's family and for her team. "Remember, it is Trayvon's family that are our constitutional victims."
Hofstra Law School Professor Monroe Freedman has asked rhetorically, "At this point, do we need the due process of a trial by jury? Can Zimmerman receive the due process of a trial by an impartial jury? Why should anyone care?" As Freedman observed, Corey's press conference was suffused with assertions of her belief that she had sought and found the truth. She committed multiple violations of the American Bar Association standards of professional conduct for prosecutors. First, the comment to Std 3.1 provides "the opinion of the lawyer on the guilt of the defendant, the merits of the case, or the merits of the evidence in the case" is "ordinarily likely to have a substantial likelihood of prejudicing a criminal proceeding." And the comment to ABA Std. 3-2.1 declares: "The idea that the criminal law ... is designed to vindicate public rather than private interests is now firmly established." And ABA Std. 3-3.2, cmt. says: "the prosecutor's client is not the victim."
The public and the truth — not Martin's bereaved "sweet parents" — are the prosecutor's clients. Zimmerman's lawyer is now faced with the formidable task of overcoming the prosecutor's multiple affirmations of her belief that she has found "the truth." If the state of Florida is to persuade the public that justice has been done, Corey will have to work overtime to demonstrate what she seems only dimly to grasp: that justice for Trayvon Martin requires justice for George Zimmerman.

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