There is a lot being written about the Zimmerman trial. And the verdict. And the aftermath. So here is my brief take on it:
1. This never should have been a criminal trial. Conviction for most crimes requires both actus reus (a criminal act) and mens rea (the intent to commit the crime). From the beginning, it was clear that George Zimmerman lacked the requisite intent. The police knew this. The state’s attorney knew it. The decision to prosecute George Zimmerman for second degree murder (which required not only proving intent to murder, but also acting with a “depraved mind”) was stupid, motivated by politics and pressure. The fact that the state's witnesses provided some of the strongest evidence on Zimmerman’s behalf (and keep in mind that the ones we saw and heard were the best witnesses the state had) is further proof that the original determination that Zimmerman was acting in self-defense – or reasonably believed he was - was accurate. Setting up a very public trial for what would be a very public inevitable failure – or reversal on appeal, had the verdict gone the other way – was profoundly irresponsible. Even a brief glimpse at the news coverage, or blogs, reveals the depth of public misunderstanding, shock, disillusionment, and anger. This could have been mitigated had people had the courage to explain up front why a decision to prosecute criminally was fatally flawed. (As well as the other, better options that the Martin family had. See #8, below.)
2. Zimmerman has a strong case of defamation against NBC. It’s true that public figures like Zimmerman have to use the tougher ‘actual malice’ standard set forth in the New York Times v. Sullivan case. Zimmerman would have to show that NBC damaged his reputation with information that they either knew was false or published with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity. Deliberately doctoring the 911 audio tapes to make it appear that Zimmerman was motivated by racial animus is a strikingly clear-cut example of actual malice. It’s been stated that Zimmerman is suing. Here’s hoping he wins. The media needs to be taught a lesson.
Laura Hollis is an Associate Professional Specialist and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches entrepreneurship and business law. She is the author of the forthcoming publication, “Start Up, Screw Up, Scale Up: What Government Can Learn From the Best Entrepreneurs,” © 2014. Her opinions are her own, and do not reflect the position of the university. Follow her on Twitter: @LauraHollis61.