State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman (1): Rule of Law or Mob Rule?

Without the rule of law and the due process such rule implies and requires, we should all be living in a lawless hell in which civil society would be absent. Both the rule of law and due process demand of those whose business it is to uphold and  enforce the law that they never let considerations extraneous to the merits of a legal case in which they are professionally involved affect their deliberations or decisions  pertaining to it.

To safeguard the rule of law, there is one extraneous consideration by which legal professionals must never knowingly let themselves be influenced. That consideration is violence or the threat of it by those interested in securing by its means some outcome that they desire. This remains true however convinced those engaged in such violence or its threat might be that justice demands the outcome they seek to achieve by its means.

Whenever those whose job it is to uphold and enforce the law allow such violence or its threat to influence their professional deliberations and decisions, then the rule of law gives way to the law of the jungle and anarchy prevails.

The violence in which some might engage or threaten to secure some legal outcome that they desire can be directed against specific individuals involved in a case, such as police, judges, witnesses and jury-members. Alternatively, it may be engaged in or threatened by groups, unless the legal authorities prosecute, convict, and duly punish someone of whose guilt these groups have become convinced and who, they believe, would not otherwise be brought to justice.

When those who are charged with upholding and enforcing the law permit their legal deliberations and decisions to be swayed by such acts of group violence or the threat of them, what we have is not justice, but mob rule.

It is precisely such mob rule that we are arguably witnessing in Florida today in connection with the prosecution for second degree murder of George Zimmerman, the man who in February of this year shot dead there teenager Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman admits fatally shooting the teenager, but denies having acted unlawfully in doing so on the grounds that he was merely defending himself, or ‘standing his ground’, against what at the time against he claims he reasonably perceived to be an equivalently grave threat posed by the teenager to him.

Initially, the Florida police department investigating the shooting appeared satisfied with Zimmerman’s version of what led to his fatally shooting Martin. Zimmerman claimed he had used the pistol he had been carrying concealed under his jacket only after the teenager had attacked him, pinned him to the ground, and then spotted the concealed weapon. Zimmerman claims that, upon seeing the weapon, the teenager made as if to reach for it. This, he claimed, left him with no alternative but use it against the teenager, with fatal effect.

The aggrieved parents of the teenager could not accept Zimmerman’s version of events, or that the local Florida police had acted in good faith in accepting it. After procuring the services of a suitable legal team, they managed, through the publicity these lawyers generated in the case  through their particular construction of it, to stir up enough public outrage at the Florida authorities for not prosecuting Zimmerman to have the case reopened and a charge of second degree murder brought against him for the shooting.

It is on the basis of two considerations that I am asserting that the arrest and current detention of Zimmerman on charges of second degree murder are arguably an instance of mob rule.

The first consideration is the apparent absence of probable cause for Zimmerman’s arrest on this charge. By ‘probable cause’ here, I mean adequate grounds to believe him guilty of the offence with which he has been charged.

The second consideration suggesting Florida has fallen victim to mob rule in connection with the case is the huge frenzy whipped up by the media and certain vested interests on account of the Florida authorities not initially pressing charges against Zimmerman, and the resultant  group violence to which the frenzy led and still threatens unless he is duly prosecuted and convicted on a homicide charge.

In my next posting on this subject , I shall explain why the state prosecutors and attorneys who took over the investigation of Martin’s shooting have palpably failed to show probable cause with regard to the offence with which they have charged  Zimmerman.

In the posting after that, I shall explain why it is the actual and threatened group violence that has undeniably been whipped up by the media and certain special interest groups on account of the Florida judicial authorities not having initially prosecuted Zimmerman that has led thembelaredly to bring the current charge against him, and not probable cause.

I am not seeking to pronounce one way or the other on Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence of the murder of Martin. However, in the absence of an admission or proof of his guilt, there has to be, under the rule of law, a legal presumption of his innocence.

All I claim is that, to date, the Florida authorities have failed to show probable cause, and that, not having do so, the best explanation of why they belatedly brought a murder charge against Zimmerman is fear of further group violence and public disorder should the public demands for his prosecution not be heeded. In sum, what we are witnessing in Florida is mob rule.

It is a sorry day for justice in America that the prosecution should ever have been brought, however lamentable it is — as, indeed, it surely is — Trayvon Martin should have lost his life through his fatal shooting by Zimmerman.