George Zimmerman’s prosecution has dominated the headlines of late. Now that it’s over, should the prosecutors face ethics charges for bringing the case in the first place? Yes, but they won’t.
The Verdict Was Completely Unsurprising
The day the Zimmerman not guilty verdict came down, one commentator said, “this is the verdict we all expected.” She explained that she meant that legal analysts expected it – and most lawyers watching the trial must agree. There was simply no evidence whatsoever of murder; the original police investigation and prosecutors determined as such and nothing ever contradicted it.
It was not the legal community that felt wronged by the verdict; a portion of the general public caught up in the media hoopla surrounding the case thought the verdict was wrong, but I have yet to read a single legal analysis attacking the verdict. Legally speaking, it was just not surprising.
What Were Prosecutors Thinking?
Certainly every case ends with one winner and one loser. Not every case where the defense wins is a prosecution doomed from the beginning, but with no reasonable analysis of the verdict detailing why it was wrong and so much commentary on why it should never have started, one does have to ask, what were the prosecutors thinking?
It is hard to ignore that the prosecution bowed to a media-enhanced public image of the case and resulting political pressure whipped into a frenzy by attention-seeking politicians and activists who had little interest in the truth. Why this is wrong is that taking legal action based on public emotion is just not how lawyers are supposed to behave.
Certainly there were rumblings long before the verdict, but commentators really exploded after the decision, turning on the political circus and taking aim at the prosecution – should they ever have brought the charges in the first place? Wasted taxpayer funds on a case that was unwinnable? Opened the state up to potential liability for prosecuting an innocent man without just cause? My answer to these questions is no, they should not have brought charges, particularly the murder charge, and drained public coffers for a media spectacle.
Why Charges Should Be Brought
It is an abdication of a prosecutor’s duty to the public to bring unsupported criminal charges, and the abdication is aggravated when those charges are brought based on an impermissible purpose such as public pressure. The prosecutor Angela Corey is quoted as having said at the time the murder charges was filed that she did not “bring charges in response to public demand,” but clearly she did. The trial showed that there never was any evidence in support of the charge, so the only possible basis for bringing it was bowing to public pressure.
I am not alone in the belief that the murder charge never should have been brought. The Wall Street Journal Blog has a great post about the fatal blow to the murder charge – the fact that there was never any evidence of racial animus, which under the charge brought was a key element. When the defense has a parade of witnesses supporting the defendant’s lack of racial bias, and the prosecution has no evidence of animus, it seems quite clear that the charge was never supported.
Legal Ethics Forum has a similar commentary here, adding to the discussion the ongoing prosecution narrative that its version of events was true. It is laughable to see a prosecutor so clearly defeated still espousing its unsupportable version of events in the media. This lack of respect for the jury’s verdict further aggravates the prosecution’s ethical violations, illustrating the attitude that led them to bring the unsupported charges in the first place.
Why No Charges Will Come
Though I think the prosecutors should face an ethics inquiry, I strongly doubt we will see any action taken against them. Most prosecutors just don’t see ethics investigations, and the standard for bringing charges in Florida is only probable cause. While it is hard to see any probable cause for the murder charge, with this low standard plus the intense media pressure on this case, the Florida authorities will probably give the Zimmerman prosecutors a pass. While this does not seem just, anyone finding this wrong should read the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct. 1350 (2011), where an innocent man who spent fourteen years on death row after prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence ultimately lost his prosecutorial misconduct case against New Orleans’ DA’s office. It is terribly wrong that George Zimmerman’s life will never be the same after this drama, but at least his verdict came out as it should.