So I’m working through my feeds (I’m getting used to Feedly now that Google Reader is gone), and I see an article at In These Times titled “The Illusion of Juror Sophistication,” and I know — just know, without even looking — that it’s going to be more complaining about the outcome of the Zimmerman trial.
The author, Richard Baker, says the poor jurors were bamboozled by Zimmerman’s defense team into thinking they were “sophisticated” and therefore they failed to see the simple truth — obvious to all clear-thinking people who agree with Richard Baker — that George Zimmerman is guilty of murder.
American jurors, totally untrained in the legal system, are led to think they are more intelligent and sophisticated than they are. Alone, they are capable of some independent thought. Forced into a room with others, they are a disaster.
That’s actually not how teams of people behave at all. The lone individual working on a problem is limited by the resources he or she brings to the table. So by assembling a group of people to handle the problem, you increases the pool of knowledge, reasoning skills, and life experiences. In almost every field of human endeavor, teams of people generally find better solutions to problems than individuals.
The Zimmerman case was not difficult except to the pseudo-sophisticate jurors. He stalked, confronted, and killed an unarmed boy walking through a neighborhood.Zimmerman confessed to the crime. But… “Buts” always confuse people tossed unexpectedly into the thinking arena. They signify that the truth may not be the truth, that there is more to the case than one man killing another.
The defense attorneys work their magic by convincing the jurors of their own sophistication. The jurors are lead to believe that there is much more to the case than most people realize and only a select few people with their intellectual complexity can see through it all. The jurors start to believe there is more to the case and forget that a man stalked and killed an unarmed boy.
That’s cheap rhetorical bullshit. Baker is staking out his claim that the Zimmerman case is as simple as “He stalked, confronted, and killed an unarmed boy,” and if you try to argue that the situation is a little more complicated than that, he accuses you of being “pseudo-sophisticated,” and thus blind to the truth the he can so plainly see. You shouldn’t be trying to confuse the issue with all your fancy words.
They vaguely suspect that a man with a gun has equaled a dead boy, but they start to doubt themselves. What seemed understandable is not so simple for the newly ordained sophisticated jurors. The plain fact that a man stalked and killed a boy is okay for the Average Joe, but not for them. Lawyers have convinced them that they are too smart for that.
No, everybody knows that Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. The jury sure does. Even Zimmerman agrees that he killed Trayvon Martin. And every “Average Joe” is free to conclude that George Zimmerman is a piece of shit.
But those weren’t the questions before the jury. The jury wasn’t there just to decide if Zimmerman killed Martin, or if Zimmerman is a cop-wannabe douchebag. That’s not their job description. The jury was in that courtroom to decide if George Zimmerman had broken the law. That’s the reality that Baker refuses to acknowledge: That the Zimmerman trial wasn’t some abstract moral judgement, but a process for deciding whether Zimmerman was guilty of breaking any of several specific Florida laws.
Those laws are complex. They have definitions and elements and conditions, and the jury had to take all of those into account when making their decision. The jury wasn’t acting sophisticated. The jury was trying to apply the law, and law is a sophisticated thing. Baker’s complaint that the jury was trying to be “sophisticated” amounts to little more than whining that they tried to apply the law they were instructed to apply.
And then the article gets even sillier:
Lawyers are trained in theatrics, illusion and magic. Acting classes may be more important than law classes. A good lawyer can toss a dummy to the floor and choke it in an instant. Top defense lawyers deserve Academy Awards and they always have the advantage over prosecuting attorneys because prosecuting attorneys are the working-class workers of the legal profession.
Really? He’s going to turn this into a case of evil-bad-private-enterprise defense lawyers beating up the humble public servants of the prosecutor’s office?
They become prosecuting attorneys for many reasons, often because they are average and might starve in an independent market situation, or because they have certain noble and naïve ideals about justice.
Oh, for fuck’s sake! Did he just say they become prosecutors because they’re too stupid to be successful defense lawyers? I think he did.
Good defense attorneys usually make a fortune and are often at the top of their game. Seldom is there a sensational trial without a top actor-lawyer present. If the trial has the potential to be exceptional, they will sometimes work pro-bono knowing that a win will pay handsomely over time. And, they usually win whether the trial is with Casey Anthony, O.J. Simpson or George Zimmerman.
First of all, I’m sure celebrity defense lawyers everywhere appreciate Baker’s saying that they usually win their cases.
Second, Baker is confusing being a legal celebrity with being a good lawyer. Just because a lawyer knows how to get himself on television, or knows how to land high-profile clients, doesn’t mean he’s actually any good at criminal defense. Those are different skill sets. Some of their clients have learned this the hard way.
Third, Baker is engaged in a little selective forgetting when it comes to sensational trials: Martha Stewart, Timothy McVeigh, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, “Scooter” Libby, Scott Peterson, Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Bernie Ebbers, Jack Kevorkian, Lyle and Erik Menendez, beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad, Bradley Manning. All high-profile clients with a lot of media coverage. And every one convicted. Most are still in jail, some are on death row. John Allen Muhammad has been executed.
And those are just the cases that went to trial. Most criminal cases end in a plea deal and never make it to the trial stage. Prosecutors get an awful lot of convictions that way. Even in famous cases with celebrity lawyers. Bernie Madoff is rumored to have paid his lawyer millions, and his prison sentence was 150 years.
Oh, one more thing…O. J. Simpson is actually in prison right now, serving a 33-year sentence.
Notable trials are fights between unequal participants. Only in a small local trial does a person get convicted, and then sometimes unjustly and for the same reasons. If they are poor, lawyers even worse than prosecutors often represent them. A person in the U.S gets as much justice as he can afford.
Psst. I think he’s talking about you public defenders…
Zimmerman’s lawyers were quick to toss in the old razzle-dazzle… His lawyers talked about Trayvon Martin turning on Zimmerman and attacking him and poor innocent George Zimmerman had no recourse except to kill him. No one knows what happened during that time nor does it make any difference.
Actually, what happened during that time does matter, because the law on self defense says it does, even if Baker thinks it’s all too sophisticated. He wants Zimmerman punished under the law against murder, but he’s unwilling to confront the complexities of that law as the jurors did, so he mocks them as “pseudo-sophisticated.”
And if no one knows what happened…I’m no lawyer, but that sounds like pretty good reasonable doubt.
Of course, Baker is willing to accept some sophistication when it suits his agenda…
A sign in a French zoo cautioned about the animal inside. It said, “This is a very dangerous animal. If attacked it will defend itself.” If Martin hit Zimmerman he had every right to defend himself against an armed stalker. Again, an armed man stalked and killed an unarmed boy.
Let’s just skip over Baker’s comparison of Trayvon Martin to a zoo animal — that paragraph is kind of muddled and I’ll assume he didn’t mean it that way — and go straight to the part where he says that even if Trayvon attacked Zimmerman first, he still had a right to defend himself. Apparently this obvious simple truth — that the person who throws the first punch is at fault — isn’t so obvious any more. Now it’s Baker who’s arguing the “but’s.” Now he’s the one who’s saying it’s all a little more complicated, and maybe Trayvon Martin had a good and justified reason to believe Zimmerman was a threat to his life, and therefore he was justified in attacking first, and therefore Zimmerman is at fault.
Well, isn’t that a sophisticated argument…
It’s also quite possibly a correct argument. There are plenty of possible ways the confrontation could have played out in which either Martin or Zimmerman could have been at fault. Self-defense is a somewhat complex issue, and it’s usually very fact-sensitive. All the details matter. The jurors may well have reached the wrong conclusion, but I doubt it was because they considered too many details, or thought about the law and the facts too hard.
Several jurors are now experiencing a form of buyer’s remorse. They bought the product sold by the defense team and now they must justify it by admitting that Zimmerman committed murder but, given their instructions, they could not convict.
Yes, like Baker and a lot of other people (including me), the jurors don’t like what Zimmerman did. But “I don’t like it” wasn’t the standard in the courtroom.
The illusion of sophistication is gone. There was nothing they could do. Not true. If a person is guilty of murder, convict him. That’s sophistication.
The jury has said, as plainly as they can, all at the same time, that Zimmerman was not guilty of murder under the law as they were instructed to interpret it. But Baker is now saying they had an obligation to just ignore the law and throw Zimmerman in a cage anyway.
So let me ask Richard Baker this: If ignoring the law is the solution, what the hell is his excuse for inaction? If the jury should have ignored the law and punished Zimmerman anyway, then why doesn’t Baker just go ahead and punish Zimmerman himself?
If he really believes his own argument, if he’s morally serious about what he’s saying, the he should engage in a little vigilante justice by driving down to Florida, snatching Zimmerman off the street, and maybe chaining him up in a basement somewhere for the next 20 years. Or if that’s too complicated, just hang him from the nearest tree.
Because that’s what Baker is saying the jury should have done. He wants them to ignore the law and punish Zimmerman. He wants them to be vigilantes. He wants them to be a lynch mob.
Which is really about as unsophisticated as you can get.