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Zimmerman and Trayvongate

April 17, 2012

Over the last several weeks, the shooting of Trayvon Martin has been front and center in the mainstream media and on talk shows, both conservative and liberal. The focus of the coverage has been on the supposed racial divide — fueled in part by the involvement of the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, the New Black Panthers and other “experts” like former heavyweight champion and convicted felon Mike Tyson.

Following close behind the racial overtones of the incident has been the expected effort by the anti-firearms crowd to use the shooting to argue against the laws in Florida and many other states that permit individuals to defend themselves with deadly force if placed in fear of their lives or of severe bodily injury — so-called “stand your ground” laws.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the media frenzy over the incident has been incredibly disingenuous. People seeking to make names for themselves have run in front of television cameras or microphones to make their opinions about the shooting known, no matter how irresponsible their remarks may be.

President Barack Obama, who is a self-proclaimed constitutional law expert, weighed in on the eve of the shooting, claiming strangely that if he had a son, “he’d look like Trayvon.” In an utterly idiotic stunt, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) tried to make comments about the shooting from the floor of the House of Representatives wearing a gray hoodie similar to that worn by Martin on the night he was killed.

In such an environment, it is not hard to see how comments and actions like these might fan the flames of political pressure on prosecutors in Florida to take action against George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Martin. Most prosecutors, however, take their sworn duty to follow the facts and the law seriously and don’t cave to political pressure or public cries for “action” and jump in and level serious charges based on such factors.

Unfortunately, the special prosecutor appointed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to lead the Trayvon Martin investigation, Angela Corey, succumbed to just those pressures and has filed a charge of second-degree murder against Zimmerman.

The “affidavit of probable cause” filed by Corey last week charging Zimmerman with second-degree murder is woefully inadequate for what it purports to be — a factual basis on which to charge a person with an extremely serious criminal defense. It may be the weakest such affidavit I have ever read (and as a former United States attorney and long-time practicing criminal defense lawyer, I have reviewed many charging affidavits). Regardless of whether Zimmerman deserves to be charged with a crime — a decision on which I take no position based on what I know at this point — this document, prepared by a trained prosecutor and executed by two trained investigators, definitely does not provide a reasonable foundation for such a charge.

Alan Dershowitz, a respected trial attorney and Harvard law professor, has come to the same conclusion. During an interview on MSNBC last week, Dershowitz told “Hardball” guest host Michael Smerconish that the affidavit produced by Corey is “irresponsible and unethical in not including material that favors the defendant.” Dershowitz concluded that the handling of the case “will result in an acquittal.”

The affidavit is unprofessionally flimsy and presumes that everything the victim did was for the right reason, while blindly accepting the opposite with regard to conclusions about Zimmerman, such as the “fact” that he “profiled” Martin — hardly the sort of factual basis most judges would accept before issuing a search or arrest warrant. It also appears that witnesses who concluded differently than the two affiant investigators were either ignored or never even interviewed. For example, the report doesn’t include any mention of the witness who was reported to have heard Zimmerman screaming for help while allegedly running away from Martin. There is absolutely no discussion of whether Zimmerman was defending himself, despite much publicly available evidence to that effect.

In a speech to federal prosecutors many years ago, U.S. Attorney Robert Jackson said that the “duty of a public prosecutor or other government lawyer is to seek justice, not merely to convict.” Apparently — and unfortunately for the cause of justice in Florida — Special Prosecutor Corey appears never to have been exposed to Mr. Jackson’s well-founded advice.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.

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