by Aubrey Harris, Coordinator, Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty
The recent acquittal of George Zimmerman in Florida has understandably upset many. The facts as known broadly would to most people seem to indicate that the acquittal or at the very least the law, is unjust.
Certainly the "Stand Your Ground" law, which takes self-defence to a confusing extreme (pre-emptive strike?), has resulted in many confusing verdicts (see this good analysis from the Tampa Bay Times). It pales in comparison to two other, extremely troubling aspects of Florida's legal system:
- Of states with the death penalty, Florida has the highest number by far of wrongful conviction in capital cases in the USA.
- Florida recently signed into law further restrictions on the right to appeal in capital cases
That means, despite the worst record on convicting the right person, Florida is accelerating the process to kill those people who may well be innocent.
The logic is backwards. Even those who agree with capital punishment generally agree that innocent people should not be executed. However what can one expect in a system that gets it wrong not only in death penalty cases; That claims the best way to prevent a crime is to commit the same crime in public (I.e., murder the "murderer"). The verdict in the Zimmerman trial to some, will also say that you needn't actually be a threat - just a perceived threat, for your life to be worthless. That is the difference between Stand Your Ground and common law self defence. That is the difference between allowing proper appeals and recklessly pushing for a state execution while proper doubt over guilt continues.
It would be smug of us to imagine that in Canada we are immune from wrongful convictions. There are countless examples even in recent trials, of innocent people convicted. But one safeguard we do have over Florida is that at least in Canada, we will never again face the prospect of executing an innocent person.
No justice system is infallible, Trayvon's death has exposed one aspect of Florida's flaws to many. The underside is just as gruesome. Regardless of how certain you are of the guilt of one person, the fact is the same system will convict an innocent person too. How much is your desire for revenge worth: is it worth the life of the next innocent person convicted?