Tuesday, July 16, 2013

MORE ON THE ZIMMERMAN VERDICT


Angela Corey has been roundly criticized for her handling of the George Zimmerman case. Those on the right side of the political spectrum feel she should never have filed the charge to begin with, and those on the left seem to think she bungled the case. In this blog I will give my analysis of her filing decision.

Before filing any charge the prosecutor must be able to answer three questions: (1) Has a crime been committed? (2) Did the defendant commit it? (3) Can I convince a jury that the defendant committed it? Unless these three questions can be answered in the affirmative, the case should not be filed. Simply knowing the defendant committed the crime is not enough, you must have a reasonable prospect of convicting the defendant at trial. Usually the thorniest of these three questions is the third. Sometimes you have a firm belief in the guilt of the defendant, but you realize that you have a marginal case which may or may not be enough to satisfy a jury. What do you do?

Here is what I think happened. It may not have happened this way, but I know how prosecutors think and this is the process I would have gone through to arrive at a decision to file charges. We begin with Corey satisfying herself that the answer to the first two questions is a resounding “Yes.” She then asks herself the third question and the answer is not “Yes,” it is “Maybe.” She believes that justice cannot be done unless the defendant is convicted and punished. This sort of case is what is known among prosecutors as “a chase which has to be tried.” I have worked through this process several times in my career and arrived at a decision to file charges. In some cases I achieved a conviction, and in others the defendant was acquitted. I well remember the last case of this nature that I lost. The judge consoled me after the trial with the comment “It was a case which had to be tried.” I would not be surprised to find out that someone knowledgeable of the system has consoled Corey with the same words.
If you think Zimmerman was not guilty of murder you may criticize her decision to file as ill-advised, but there is no ground for criticizing it as improperly motivated. Corey foresaw the firestorm of criticism which would come in the wake of an acquittal. Corey knew that a no-file decision would have minimized the flack. Facing such a situation and having an opportunity to minimize damage with a no-file, her decision to file charges was a courageous act.