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Yesterday marked the first full day of the Defense’s case in the George Zimmerman trial, as new evidence and testimony from friends and family have aroused questions about the appropriateness of the charges being brought against the defendant. “Piers Morgan Live” invited a team of legal eagles to weigh in on the significance of the second-degree murder charge at hand, and the complicated issues of reasonable doubt and self-defense within the context of this case.
Civil liberties lawyer and Professor of Law at Harvard University Alan Dershowitz insisted that overcharging Zimmerman with second-degree murder for the homicide of Trayvon Martin may “create incredible complications” for the prosecution:
“If they had instead charged what would have been appropriate in this case, at most, manslaughter, they would have had a reasonable chance of prevailing.”
Defense Attorney Jayne Weintraub helped clarify why the inherently intention-based charge will be difficult to uphold.
“As a lawyer, analyzing the evidence that's before us, and understanding the legal instruction that the judge will give the jury, that a reasonable doubt can be proven by a conflict in the evidence, a lack of evidence, it goes to show that there's nothing but reasonable doubt in this case.”
That conflicting evidence doesn’t necessarily imply lies, Weintraub explains. “The mother of Trayvon Martin and the mother of George Zimmerman, both of them were put up by their respective lawyers, neither of those women were lying ... I believe that they were testifying about what they really wanted to hear ... But all that amounts to is reasonable doubt.”
Judge Alex Ferrer reminded us that though reasonable doubt lies within the highly contested details surrounding the events that led up to the altercation, they should play no role in the decision, which should ultimately be determined by a ruling over self-defense.
“When it comes down to self-defense,” says Ferrer, “what matters is what happens at the time of the confrontation. And by the way, this is by no means unique. Very often you have a crime where victim is dead and you're stuck with one side of the story. Sometimes the police can make something out of that, sometimes they cannot. Often they cannot. So this is not a unique case by any means at all.”
But by determining guilt based upon self-defense, Judge Alex maintains that the prosecution is left with very little room to argue second-degree murder:
“You look to see what the perception was of the person at the time they used deadly force. If the jury agrees that he was acting reasonably in his mind when he thought he was going to suffer serious bodily injury, and it was reasonable for him to use deadly force, they will find him not guilty because of self-defense. If they disagree, he will be convicted of manslaughter.
“Piers Morgan Live” invited Michael Higginbotham, renowned Professor of Law and author of "Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America,” to weigh in on the role of race in the trial and the potential for a racially-driven backlash if Zimmerman is acquitted.
On the topic of race as a factor in the case, Higginbotham maintains that “It has been hanging there and it's been there since the beginning,” both in court and in public opinion.
Predictions have been made about reactions to a perceived lack of justice, should Zimmerman be acquitted. But Higginbotham called for a respect response to the trial’s outcome and our legal system.
“Many in the black community as well as throughout the country are very upset by what has transpired, particularly because this is a murder case. It's the ultimate human tragedy. But the most important thing is that justice be done. And so Americans of all the colors must respect the decision that the jurors come to and of course we have an appeal process that can take place.”