The ethics principle that the apparently endless ethics train wreck launched when George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin (Zimmerman’s trial is set for June) most clearly delineates is this: criminal trials, including their arguments and evidence, should take place in court, not in public.
From the very beginning, public opinion, and by extension jury biases, have been manipulated by statements to the media by an endless parade of parties and onlookers who should have kept their mouths shut. The array of unethical commentators include Martin’s family and lawyer, Zimmerman’s lawyers, past and present, the prosecutor, police personnel, potential witnesses, journalists, pundits, elected officials, idiot celebrities, and the President of the United States.
And you’ll be happy to know that it’s still happening. The New York Times reports that the judge in the case has ruled that Martin’s school and social media records should be provided to the defense, because they are relevant in a case in which the defendant is alleging self-defense. The judge agreed with Zimmerman’s lawyers that whether a victim “had an alleged propensity to violence” or aggression is relevant in the inquiry into what happened.
Naturally, as has become routine in this tragedy, Martin’s mother and father quickly took to the newsmedia to spin the decision. Outside the courthouse, they protested the defense’s efforts to portray their son as the aggressor. “Trayvon was the victim,” said Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father. “And I think it’s wrong that we attack the victim.”
No, it’s wrong to use the media to argue guilt or innocence in a criminal case before the case has been tried. The Martin’s are basically saying that they think it’s wrong for Zimmerman to have a legal defense to murder charges. The Constitution and American justice system say otherwise. It has been clear from the beginning that the Martins would be happy to forgo a trial and just have Zimmerman sent directly to prison for life, and they have accumulated a disturbingly large, vocal and violent group of followers who feel the same way. In every case in which a defendant accused of murder claims self-defense, his or her argument is that the deceased, the victim, provoked the violence with a credible threat that required deadly force. Trying to establish this in trial isn’t “wrong,” it’s necessary; having the opportunity to establish this isn’t “wrong,” it is what we call due process, and the right to a fair trial.
When Martin’s parents were attempting to make sure that law enforcement officials were diligently investigating their son’s shooting before Zimmerman was arrested, their public statements—some of them, anyway—could be defended. Now the Mertins are just engaged in extra-judicial interference. They have a right to talk, but they shouldn’t. It’s time to shut up and let the system work.
Facts: New York Times
Graphic: Social Mallard