I have both personal and legal opinions about the State v. George Zimmerman case in Florida; accordingly on the “personal” side you will see the pronoun “I” more than would appear normally here.
My legal opinion doesn’t amount to much; I am perhaps slightly competent to discuss the basics of 4th and 5th Amendment issues in the case if they appear (since those involve federal law), but felony work isn’t my forté and I have neither a law license in Florida nor experience pro hac vice in that state nor the ambition to practice there. (Don’t get mad, Alan, I am going to come visit you in Jacksonville.) I am unashamed to admit I don’t know anything about Florida law; knowing Florida law isn’t the competence that I promise to my clients.
Many attorneys, including myself, have expressed shock and disbelief at the media conference held by Mr. Zimmerman’s prior attorneys Sonner and Uhrig. While Florida ethics rules are not identical to those of Maryland, both states use versions of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 1.6 protects confidentiality of information obtained during the course of representing a client – not merely information from the client in a narrowly-defined attorney-client privileged communication but other information. No interest of Mr. Zimmerman appears to have been protected or advanced by that press conference; there was no need for it. Further, they should have anticipated that representing a homicide case involving an adult shooter and an unarmed teenage dead body would bring some media attention; if they couldn’t handle the cameras, they should have declined the case or brought in someone who can control communications (such as by not having any communications.)
At the personal level, the Zimmerman case was for me a cause of reflection as a recent survivor of a gunpoint robbery in Owings Mills near my apartment. Three men are now locked up no bond awaiting a June 6 trial date in Circuit Court for 21 counts each, seven felony and misdemeanor counts against three victims (or “survivors” which more accurately expresses my attitude), myself and two others in a late January rolling robbery spree in Owings Mills. In that armed robbery spree, one other victim was apparently pistol-whipped; I was not battered by the robbers.
I don’t know – and really cannot know – what George Zimmerman experienced mentally before and during his encounter with 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Among the unexpected good effects of aging, however, is the realization that things can be good despite shortcomings, but that shortcomings are real. My eyes are not what they were; reading the screen on the iPhone that I bought to replace the one that the thugs robbed at gunpoint is not easy, even with the “retina screen.” (My retinae are probably fine; it’s the muscles controlling the shape of my eyeball and lens that plague us old folks.) My endurance isn’t what it was; my mind might be slower though it’s hard to tell. It’s easy for me to believe that I could, in arrogance (among my many shortcomings), decide that someone were a threat and needed killing. The State of Maryland would probably issue me a carrying permit and I have the resources, if I really chose to, to buy a gun and walk around with it as an epistemologically flawed disaster waiting to happen with the full blessing of the law (and, of late, the federal courts) as a violent crime survivor.
George Zimmerman probably didn’t wake up that day intending to kill someone, and Trayvon Martin didn’t go to a neighborhood convenience store with the intent to purchase his last meal there and get killed en route back. Yet one man is dead and another may die in prison. I don’t want to let bad epistemology lead me to kill someone with a gun. As an attorney, I am used to 10-day, 15-day, 30-day deadlines. Not 2-second deadlines; those are for fighter pilots and folks who defuse bombs for a living. Can I, in two seconds, tell the difference between some obnoxious Gen-Yer in a hoodie who means me no harm, and one with a gun ready to rob me? Can I get my car keys, let along a snub-nosed .38, pulled out and aimed for their proper target in 2 seconds? No – fallible in eyesight, fallible in reflexes, fallible in split-second judgment and perception, fallible in epistemology.
I’d rather assume the risk of living an unarmed life – and there is a risk to that, make no mistake – than to attempt to handle not only a firearm against some aggressor but the decision-making and perception in that 2-second . Play to my strengths – negotiations, defusing situational “bombs” by manipulating the players, not by superior gunplay. I am a potential George Zimmerman, whether admitting it makes me feel good or not. At least I can choose to disarm (as others may, for their good reasons, choose to arm themselves.) That, not the procedures or substance of State v. Zimmerman, matters most now.